Compensation

Employee Reimbursements for Uniforms: When Must a Company Provide?

According to most state laws, all employees must be reimbursed for reasonably incurred business expenses. This includes employee uniforms in some cases, which is an area some employers like to push as an employee’s responsibility. Read on for more information on when it is the responsibility of the employer to either provide the uniform or reimburse the employee for its purchase, and when the employer really can make the employee pay for the uniform.

When Must an Employer Provide Reimbursements for Uniforms?

Uniforms typically fall into one of four categories:

  • Logoed or trademarked clothing
  • Employer-brand clothing (this is common in retail environments; it doesn’t necessarily have the company logo on it, but it is made by the company)
  • Industry-specific clothing (such as nurse scrubs)
  • Street-wear clothing

Which of these are uniforms that employers must pay for?

“Generally, uniforms that are worn primarily for the benefit of the employer must be paid by the employer (or reimbursed).” Harold M. Brody explained in a recent BLR webinar. This includes:

  • Clothing that has an employer’s trademark, brand or logo is worn for the employer’s benefit, and thus must be provided to employees free of charge; this includes employer-branded clothing without logos. “The more specific the employer’s requirements, the more likely the DOL will consider this to be a uniform.” Brody explained.
  • Personal protective gear is an employer expense under OSHA.
  • Employers must also replace lost or worn out uniforms free of charge.
  • Employers must pay for any required special care, such as ironing, dry cleaning or separate laundering because of heavy soiling or special color.

There are also uniform requirements (or allowed clothing options) that an employer can implement that it does not have to pay for. This includes:

  • Regular, basic, street clothing, which an employee can wear while not at work, is not a required uniform and does not have to be paid for by the company.
  • Specifications such as black pants, a white dress shirt, a black polo shirt, etc., do not have to be paid for either.
  • Industry-specific clothing which an employee can use while working for another employer may fall under this category, depending on the state. For example, in California, employers need not pay for nurse scrubs.
  • Finally, there is no obligation to reimburse employees for the time they spend washing uniforms or having them laundered when they require only minimal care (as opposed to special care outlined above).

For more information on employee reimbursements for uniform expenses, order the webinar recording of “Employee Expenses, Reimbursements, and Per Diems: Making Sure Your Policies and Practices are Legally Compliant.” To register for a future webinar, visit http://store.blr.com/events/webinars.

Hal Brody is a partner in the labor and employment law department of Proskauer. His practice is characterized by its diversity and he has represented employers in virtually every facet of labor and employment law.

  • Barb

    Remember, too, that some states have limits on taking deductions for unreturned uniforms.

  • Vicki

    Our hospital has changed what they want each department to wear 3 times over the past ten years and have not paid one dime.

  • Karl

    No references. No OSHA or Federal laws to back what you said?

  • Jeanette

    My company has changed their policy on who pays for uniforms. Where there was once an allowance there is nothing. Our uniforms are so specific that it has to be provided by a certain company of a certain company shoes are the same way. Also, if we quit or are fired we have to turn in all of our uniforms that go with that company. So what is there to do?

  • Jato jenkins

    Hi my name is jato i work for a private company and they provide uniforms with logos they are not paying us for laundry expenses but instead they are taking laundry expenses from our check what could i do we are not unionized.

  • Veronica E

    I work for a tire company but there is only male sizes for the required uniform shirt. A men’s small is still too big for me. Is it required for the company to make women sizes? There are two other women that work at the shop but they could still fit in a men’s small.

  • Robrat41

    Subway are supplying us with bright green shoes and charging us £30 for them. I will be wearing ordinary shoes to work as they are so hideous I don’t want to risk being seen in them in normal circumstances. Can they do this? Make me pay for them I mean?