Many employers require their employees to wear uniforms. Are employers or employees responsible for the cost? The short answer is, it depends. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act and subsequent regulations govern the payment of wages, the most notable aspect of which is the minimum wage. The question of whether or not an employer can require employees to pay for uniforms, either directly or by payroll deduction, depends on whether the practice would interfere with the payment of the minimum wage. The FLSA considers the cost of uniforms as a business expense, not a part of the employee’s wages.
The first inquiry into whether or not an employer has correctly or incorrectly withheld wages in payment for a uniform is whether or not the clothing involved is in fact a uniform. Under the FLSA, the three main categories of uniform clothing are as follows:
- clothing that displays the employer’s logo;
- clothing that might be considered a costume; and
- clothing that is distinctive in terms of style or color.
Generally, the less specific the clothing, even though required, the less likely it would be considered a uniform. A good test is to consider whether the clothing might be worn by the employee for occasions other than work. Khaki pants, button down shirts, polo shirts, blue jeans, or other types of common casual clothing would not be considered a uniform.
For employers, the withholding of wages for the cost of uniforms can be a problem when employees are earning the federal minimum wage or only slightly above. In such cases, the deduction of uniform costs from wages could result in the wage of the employee falling below the required minimum. For employees earning enough to offset the cost, there would be no prohibition from making such a deduction. Included in the cost of uniforms is any specialized upkeep such as dry cleaning. If an employee must incur cleaning costs, he or she would be entitled to reimbursement to the extent the minimum wage for the workweek was not met.
At Tipp & Buley, we have over 55 years of collective experience in employment-related legal matters. If you believe you’ve been paid less than the minimum wage by your employer, please call us. We’ll put our experience to work for you. Call 406-389-4215 or visit us online to set up a one-on-one consultation.