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Are employers required to reimburse employees for uniforms and special work clothes?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Sep 13, 2019 | 0 Comments

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Under Federal law, employers are encouraged to reimburse employees for uniforms or required clothes. But the law does not say that they must reimburse their employees for such costs.

In addition, federal law states that employers, who require non-OSHA mandated uniforms, are not required to pay for them if they compensate their employees adequately.

Federal law, though, does state that employers have to pay for their employees' personal protective equipment, or “PPE.”

Note that California law treats the issue a bit differently. The law makes a distinction between mandated uniforms and required clothing (e.g., black pants and shoes). California State law says that while employers have to reimburse employees for uniforms, they do not have to do the same for required clothing.

What does the Fair Labor Standards Act Uniform Law say?

The Fair Labor Standards Act is a federal statute that says that employees do not have to wear work uniforms but allows employers to mandate them.

The Act also states that if employers do require uniforms, they should pay for them (or reimburse the employee) and deduct them as business expenses. However, the act does not mandate payment. The law simply recommends that employers pay for the uniforms or reimburse the employee for the same.

Although the Fair Labor Standards Act does not require employers to pay for their employees' work clothing, the Act states that they must pay for personal clothing and equipment required to comply with the federal work safety regulations.

What do the Minimum Wage Laws say on the issue?

These federal laws state that employers who require non-OSHA mandated uniforms are not required to pay for them if they compensate their employees adequately.

Employers can require their employees to pay for their own work uniforms, but to do so, they must pay them at least minimum wage - after they deduct the costs of the uniforms from their employees' paychecks.

What does the OSHA Uniform Law say about personal protective equipment?

OSHA states that employers must pay for their employees' PPE, provided that:

  1. the equipment is necessary for job performance,
  2. the PPE is required by OSHA, and
  3. the equipment protects the employee from serious injuries or death.

Note that examples of PPE items include:

  • helmets,
  • shoes,
  • safety vests,
  • goggles,
  • gloves,
  • face shields, and
  • protective clothing.

What is required under California law?

In general, per the California Labor Code, an employer is required to reimburse an employee for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred directly related to the job. This includes expenses as a “direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties, or of his or her obedience to the directions of the employer.” This language is found in Labor Code 2802 LC.

But note that expenses available for reimbursement may depend on the worker's job and the employer. Some common reimbursement expenses may include:

  • uniform costs,
  • travel expenses,
  • driving costs,
  • internet service,
  • phone service, and
  • training or education costs.

Specifically on the issue of uniform costs, California law makes a distinction between mandated uniforms and required clothing. “Required clothing” means that an employer directs that an employee wear particular items of clothing, like a black t-shirt and black pants.

If an employer requires an employee to wear a uniform, the employer must pay for the cost of the uniform. An employer may also be required to maintain the uniform or reimburse the employee for the cost of uniform maintenance.

However, an employer does not have to reimburse an employee for required clothing, even if the employee would otherwise have to buy them. An employer is also not required to pay for the maintenance of regular required clothing.

Please note that there is a special situation for employees of a retail clothing store. Some of these employees may be required to wear clothing of the type or style that the store sells. This may not be considered a work expense if the employee could purchase such clothing at other retailers. However, if the employer requires the employee to purchase and wear only items sold in the store, the employer may have to reimburse the employee for the cost.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).

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