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Work uniforms

I’m thinking about making my employees wear uniforms. Can I do that? Do I have to pay for them?

Uniforms can be a great way for your customers to identify your employees. They can also be a quintessential part of your company’s marketing and branding strategy. Uniforms can also serve as a reminder to employees that they are at work and should perform as such.

If you require employees to wear a uniform, you are not only responsible for the cost of the uniform, but also for the costs of cleaning and maintaining the uniform.

Employers sometimes get confused about what constitutes a uniform. California’s Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) defines uniforms as “apparel and accessories of distinctive design or color” that an employee is required to wear.

If you ask your employees to wear basic or nondistinctive items, such as a black shirt or black pants, you are not required to provide or maintain those items. For example, if you require your employees to wear dark, nonslip, closed-toe shoes, that is not considered part of a uniform.

However, if you require something distinctive or not a common article of clothing, like a striped bistro apron, for example, it is your business’s responsibility to purchase and maintain those articles.

An employer may not deduct from an employee’s wages for normal wear and tear to employer-provided uniform items. However, you may require a reasonable deposit for uniforms to cover unreturned items, if you are concerned that employees will walk off with their uniform. Or you could ask the employee to sign a payroll deduction form authorizing recovery of the unreturned item. The form must disclose the value of the item and state that the employee agrees to return the item on demand and that if it’s not returned it will be deducted from wages due.

Employers often ask how best to handle maintenance of a uniform. One option is to handle the maintenance yourself—for example, if you require your employees to wear aprons, you can wash them yourself at the end of the workday, or use a laundry service. Another option is to pay an allowance to employees as a reasonable estimate of the time it would take to maintain the uniform. If a uniform requires dry cleaning, you could reimburse your employees for that cost, or provide the service yourself.

The same laws about uniforms do not govern safety equipment, but employers must provide such items as necessary and as regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board.

Mary Luros is a business law attorney with Hudson & Luros, LLP, in Napa, and can be reached The information provided here is not legal advice, nor does it form an attorney-client relationship with the author. The author makes no representations as to the reliability or accuracy of the above information.

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