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Can the union demand we pay for employees’ personal protective equipment?

by on
in Employment Law,Human Resources

Q. Our company is in the midst of planning for contract negotiations. The bargaining committee has made it known it will demand that the company pay for all steel-toed safety shoes. The company does require that its employees wear steel-toed safety shoes in the plant, but the company has never paid for the shoes. The union states that because of new OSHA regulations, which have been adopted in Michigan, the employer is required to pay for employee personal protective equipment (PPE) and therefore must pay for the safety shoes.

A. The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration adopted an amended PPE standard in May 2008. Michigan’s Personal Protective Equipment safety standard was last amended in May 1997.

While the general rule is that personal protective equipment required by applicable safety standards must be provided by the employer at no cost to the employee, there are limited exceptions to that rule. One such exception is safety shoes. While the federal safety standard makes it explicitly clear that an employer is not obligated to provide safety shoes, the Michigan standard provides that the payment for safety shoes “shall be determined between the employer and the employee or shall be as determined by a collective-bargaining agreement.”

Thus, the payment for safety shoes is clearly a subject of contract negotiations, but there is no requirement that the employer agree to pay for safety shoes. Changes to federal OSHA regulations in 2008 had no effect on this issue. 

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