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.