The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Uniform Law does not require employees to wear uniforms to work. What the FLSA Uniform Law does is protect employees from having to pay for something that is a benefit to their employer. The FLSA Uniform Act clarifies whether the responsibility to cover the cost of a uniform belongs to the employee or the employer. The FLSA minimizes employer liability and protects the employee from deductions that reduce their weekly pay to below minimum wage.
If a uniform is required by the employer, by law, or by the nature of the job, then the uniform is considered to be a benefit to the employer, and this expense is covered by the employer. Not only the cost of the uniform, but laundering and maintenance fees are all considered business expenses to be paid for by the employer.
If uniforms are worn by employees but do not fall under one of the three criteria listed above, then the employer may require the employee to pay for the uniform. The expectation is that employers are aware of the FLSA Uniform Law and do not reduce an employee’s pay below minimum wage by deductions designed to cover the expense of an employee’s uniform.
If a uniform is required to comply with work safety regulations issued by a federal agency like OSHA, then the employer must pay for this clothing and equipment. Examples of required work safety uniforms are personal protective equipment (PPE).
What is Considered a Uniform
If an employer orders a general type of ordinary street clothing to be worn while working and permits variations in the clothing to be worn, the clothing items would not be considered a uniform. This includes any basic clothing like a button-up dress shirt, a tee or polo, and khaki pants or jeans.
If the employer orders a specific type or style of clothing to be worn at work, such clothing would be considered a uniform. Examples of this type of uniform would be anything with an employer logo, like a polo shirt, hat, tee shirt or apron. Another example of a uniform would be any clothing with a distinctive style, color or quality. A wrinkle-free, freshly pressed white button-up dress shirt; a navy-blue three-button blazer; a specified color and style of tee or polo shirt; or blue, boot-cut jeans would all fall under this description and be considered uniforms.
Items of apparel that are required to be worn by cleaning and culinary personnel, guards and security, hospital and nursing home employees and other similar professional services are all considered uniforms.
The employers who are most at risk of being out of compliance with the FLSA Uniform Act are those that pay their employees minimum wage or close to it. To remain in compliance, employers must ensure that deductions for employee uniforms do not reduce employee pay below minimum wage. If the employee is required to wear a uniform, the employer can only legally deduct a weekly amount that is above the hourly minimum wage x the number of hours worked that week.
Example 1 — Calculating Weekly Minimum Wage
For example, if the cost of the uniform ($50) is to be paid for by an employee who works 20 hours a week, then the pay may not be less than $7.25 an hour (or current minimum wage) after the cost of the uniform is deducted from the paychecks.
Thus, $7.25 an hour x 20 hours a week = $145 a week. This is the minimum wage amount for our example that deductions cannot fall below.
If our employee is paid $7.50 an hour and works 20 hours a week, that is $150 in weekly pay. Any deductions for uniforms cannot reduce pay below $145 weekly. The difference between the total weekly wages and that of minimum wage for the same hours worked is only $5. This is the full amount that can be deducted from that week’s pay.
However, employers have a prorated option to remain in compliance. Employers may deduct a prorated amount over a period of time until the cost of the uniform has been recovered. The prorated amount can be deducted from a number of paychecks as long as the deduction amount does not reduce the required minimum wage for the workweek. In the example above, the employer could take the difference between the weekly wages and the weekly minimum wage and deduct that amount over a calculated number of pay periods until the uniform cost has been recovered.
Example 2 — Prorated Deductions
In the example above, the employee makes $7.50 an hour and $50 is deducted for a uniform. To comply with the FLSA Uniform Law that addresses the prorated option, the employer can deduct any prorated amount over multiple paychecks as long as the weekly pay never drops below the minimum wage amount.
Weekly pay may not be lower than the minimum wage calculated in our example at $145.
The first paycheck is $7.50 x 20 hours = $150. The first deduction is $150 − $145 = $5.
The employer would only be able to deduct a maximum of $5 from the following 9 paychecks until the $50 total uniform deduction had been made.
Additionally, employers may not avoid FLSA minimum wage requirements by requesting that the employee use cash to reimburse the employer for the cost of such items in lieu of deducting the cost from the employee’s wages.
Employers are also required to comply with existing minimum wage and uniform laws at the state level. If these state laws require uniforms to be paid for by the employer, then that law must be followed.
Additional Options for Employers
Some options for employer compliance with the FLSA Uniform Law include the following:
Providing uniforms to employees free of charge.
Providing laundering and maintenance to the employee free of charge.
Providing an additional set amount above the regular pay to cover any uniform-related expenses (uniform purchase, maintenance, laundering or repair).
OSHA Uniform Law
In certain industries, PPE is a necessary part of an employee’s uniform that OSHA requires the employer to pay for. OSHA requires employers to pay for any safety apparel or equipment that is necessary for the employee’s job and that protects employees from injury. Examples of PPE include helmets, shoes, safety vests, goggles, gloves, face shields and protective clothing.
Whether a uniform is required by an employer, required by law, necessary for the protection of employees from injury or desired by an employer who wants a cohesive brand image, Alsco has your uniform needs covered. Our uniform services offer uniform rentals, laundering, maintenance and lease and PPE options that will all aid in making FLSA Uniform Law compliance easier and in meeting OSHA Uniform Law standards.
https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fact-sheets/16-flsa-wage-deductions. U.S. Department of Labor.
https://ofm.wa.gov/state-human-resources/compensation-job-classes/compensation-administration/fair-labor-standards-act-flsa-washington-minimum-wage-act-wmwa/fair-labor-standards-act-flsa. Office of Financial Management. (July 2021).
https://smallbusiness.chron.com/laws-requiring-employee-wear-uniforms-23224.html. Chron. (March 2019).
https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/standardinterpretations/1995-08-10 Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (August 1995).
https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/mw-consolidated. U.S. Department of Labor. (August 2021).