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Who pays for required work uniforms?

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Q. We are considering instituting a uniform policy at our workplace. We would like to require our employees to pay for their own uniforms. Is this legal? Could we also require employees to maintain their own uniforms?

A. The answers to your questions depend on the nature of the uniforms and on how much they cost.

The Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the U.S. Department of Labor has said that “there are no hard-and-fast rules in determining whether certain types of dress are considered uniforms” for purposes of compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

However, the WHD’s Field Operations Handbook provides some guidance. It makes a distinction between clothing that employees can wear outside of work or “street clothing” and clothing of a specific type and style:

  • If an employer merely prescribes a general type of ordinary, basic street clothing to be worn while working and allows variations in details of dress, the garments chosen by the employees would not be considered uniforms.
  • On the other hand, if the employer does prescribe a specific type and style of clothing to be worn at work (for example where a restaurant or hotel requires a tuxedo or a shirt and blouse or jacket of a specific or distinctive style, color or quality) such clothing would be considered uniforms.

Employers must generally pay for uniforms if wearing one is required by a law, by the nature of a business or by the employer. Under those circumstances, the employer must also pay to maintain the uniform.

If the employer requires the employee to pay for or maintain the uniform, it may not reduce the employee’s wage below the minimum wage. Deductions for the cost of uniforms or for expense of maintaining uniforms must be authorized in writing by the employee to be valid under the Texas Payday Law.

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