HR Management & Compliance

Do We Have to Pay for ‘Uniforms’?

I handle HR functions
for a self-storage firm, and I have a question about uniforms. We require our
customer service and front-desk employees to wear khaki slacks and a polo shirt
embroidered with the company logo. I know that California has some strict requirements
about when employers have to pick up the tab for employee uniforms, but I am
pretty sure that my company only has to pay for the polo shirts employees must
wear, but not the pants. Am I correct?

– Julie H. in San Diego


400+ pages of state-specific, easy-read reference materials at your fingertips—fully updated! Check out the Guide to Employment Law for California Employers and get up to speed on everything you need to know.


 

No, your firm must
provide both the shirt and pants. California Labor Code Section 452 authorizes employers
to require employees to wear uniforms of a particular style, color, quality,
etc. Further, under the state Wage Orders, an employer that requires nonexempt
workers to wear uniforms must provide and maintain them.

 

What qualifies as a uniform? Attorney Laura Innes, with Simpson, Garrity
& Innes, PC, in South San Francisco, says that the Wage Orders define “uniform”
broadly to encompass apparel or accessories that are distinctive in design or
color and that are not “generally usable” in an occupation. So, an employer
would not have to pay for basic wardrobe items, such as black pants, black
shoes, and a white shirt, if they are generally usable in the employee’s
occupation. But the employer would have to pay the cost of clothes of a particular
design (such as tropical shirts), other clothing items that sport a company
logo or insignia, or clothes of a specified color. As for color, the employer
would have to foot the bill for a required shirt that is not white or pants
that are not black. Similarly, a hospital wouldn’t have to pay for a nurse’s
white uniform because the nurse could probably wear the same item wherever he
or she worked. But if a housekeeper has to wear a nurse-type uniform, the
employer would have to pay for it because the housekeeper wouldn’t be expected
to be able to wear that uniform at other housekeeping jobs.