QUESTION: Do I have to pay for my employees’ uniforms?ANSWER: Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), uniforms are the responsibility of the employer. What constitutes a uniform, however, is one of two factors that ultimately determines who has to pay for the clothes that make up the uniform.
Generally speaking, if a uniform consists of clothing that could double as "street wear," an employee may be required to purchase the articles of clothing that make up the "uniform." If the uniform includes specialized items, such as protective gear, clothing with the company logo emblazoned on it, etc., the employer is required to pay for it or reimburse the employee for the cost.
The other determining factor in whether an employee must pay for his/her uniform is the employee's income. In all states, an employer may not deduct the cost of a required uniform from the employee's wages if the cost would cause the employee's wages to fall below minimum wage.
A number of states have their own definition of what constitutes a uniform and what employers’ responsibilities are regarding purchasing and maintaining uniforms. For example, in California if an employer requires workers to wear a uniform, the employer must purchase and pay for maintenance and cleaning of the uniform. The term "uniform" is broad. It means "wearing apparel of distinctive design or color." The term "distinctive design" covers traditional uniforms, such as one worn by law enforcement officers. However, the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) has opined that "distinctive design" also includes clothing such as rugby shirts and floral Hawaiian-style shirts.
The definition of uniform also includes clothing of a particular color, even if the clothes do not have an insignia or are not of a particular design. For example, if the employer requires workers to wear a blue shirt, even one without an insignia, the employer must pay for it because it is of "distinctive" color. Employers seeking to avoid paying for clothing may wish to specify "dark" pants and "light" colored shirts instead of particular colors.This article originally appeared in 2014 and was updated in 2022.
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