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Dressing the Part: Can Your Employer Charge You for Your Uniform?

Work UniformsMany employers require employees to wear a uniform when they are on the clock. In some cases, the uniform is supplied free of charge, but some employers want to charge employees for their uniforms.

Is making an employee pay for a work uniform legal? And what if you’re earning minimum wage? Does this mean a uniform deduction results in a paycheck that doesn’t meet minimum wage requirements?

How the Federal Labor Standards Act Protect Employees

First, it’s important to understand the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and how the law affects minimum wage requirements.

According to the FLSA, employees who are working for non-exempt employers must be paid a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. New York City’s minimum wage is transitioning and will be $15 per hour from its current $9 by the end of 2018 for most businesses. Nearby surrounding counties will reach $15 by the end of 2021, while the rest of the state will reach $12.50 by the end of 2020. And when state minimum wage levels are higher than the federal minimum, the employee must be paid the higher of the two.

So if your employer wants to deduct the expense of uniform requirements from your paycheck and doing so would result in a wage less than the state or city’s minimum wage, is this legal?

The simple answer is “no.”

Employers cannot deduct uniform expenses from an employee’s paycheck if such a deduction results in the employee earning less than the legally mandated minimum wage.

How the Law Applies to Employees Regarding Uniform Requirements

In situations in which a uniform is required, or is necessary for the nature of the business or is a requirement of the employer, the cost of maintenance of that uniform is a business expense that is the responsibility of the employer. Employers can choose to pass that cost onto the employee, but the cost of the uniform cannot reduce the employee’s wages below the minimum wage, nor can it cut into overtime compensation.

Essentially, employers must still meet minimum wage requirements even if they choose to deduct the cost of uniform expenses.

The court system has held businesses accountable to minimum wage laws in the past. In one instance, employees of The Walt Disney Co. were granted nearly $4 million in back wages because their employer had violated the law when it deducted expenses for uniforms that caused wages to drop below the federal minimum wage.

You can read more about Disney’s wage violation here.

Laws regarding minimum wage can be confusing, especially since they vary between the state and federal levels and from state to state. Questions frequently arise when employers make changes or deductions to paychecks regarding employee benefits, requirements, and time away from work. It’s easy to understand why employees would be confused about their rights and how the laws regarding minimum wage affect them.

If you have questions about the cost of a work uniform or you are concerned something your employer has done regarding your wages has broken a law, we can help. Contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. for more information.


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