Tailor uniform requirements to DOL, states’ laws

By Nov 1, 2003
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HR Magazine, November 2003 Q: Can I charge my employees for uniforms?

A: It depends. Both federal and state laws make provisions for the deduction from wages for uniforms, and you will have to make sure you are in compliance with both.

On the federal level, the Fair Labor Standards Act allows for the deduction from wages for uniforms, as long as the deduction does not bring the employee’s hourly pay or overtime pay for the workweek below the minimum wage of $5.15 per hour, and the minimum overtime wage of $7.73 per hour. If an employee makes $5.15 per hour, no deductions may be made for uniforms at all, as that would take the worker below the minimum automatically. In addition, if a minimum wage employee’s uniform requires special cleaning (other than can be washed with their personal clothing), the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division states in its Publication 1428, published March 1984, that uniform maintenance reimbursement must be paid either by reimbursing the exact amount of cleaning or by paying the employee one hour of additional, straight time pay. Similarly, uniform allowances are not considered wages and cannot be used as credit towards meeting minimum wage obligations.

While most states simply reiterate the federal law in their provisions, several states make additional provisions, with some going so far as to prohibit employers from making employees pay for required uniforms.

For example, 13 states and Puerto Rico have provisions that may affect an employer’s ability to charge employees for uniforms. California, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Puerto Rico all make provisions that could require employers to pay for all required uniforms and their maintenance. Colorado and New Jersey require employers to provide required uniforms for certain industries and occupations free of charge to the employee. Illinois requires a written consent by the employee to deduct for uniforms, while Minnesota limits total uniform deductions to $50 and requires this to be refunded at termination.

If a state does not appear on this list it is due to not finding any evidence that a statute exists for that state or that the state law does not differ from the federal law. If you would like more information on the federal law regarding deductions for uniforms, go to the DOL’s web site at www.dol.gov/esa/regs/compliance/whd/whdfs16.htm.

Shari Lau, SPHR, is an information specialist with SHRM’s Information Center and Library.

Please Note: This material is provided as general information and is not a substitute for legal or other professional advice. National members may reach the Information Center by calling (800) 283-7476 and choosing option #5 or by using the Information Center’s Assistance Request Form found under HR Resources on SHRM Online.

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