Work Uniforms: What is Legal?

April 11, 2016

While employers legally can and do set the standards when it comes to the dress and appearance of their employees—employers have to adhere to what’s laid out in a federal law called The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FSLA sets the minimum national standards for employment. States and localities may also pass more stringent laws that provide increased benefits and protections for employees in their geographic areas.

A uniform is an expense. Under the FLSA employers may require employees wear work uniforms, though the FLSA encourages employers to pay for uniforms and to deduct them as a business expense. However, the FLSA does not require employers to bear the cost of uniforms. Employers may pass that cost onto employees as long as employees still receive minimum wage after the cost of uniforms is deducted from their paychecks. Also, uniform deductions cannot reduce an employer’s obligation to pay overtime compensation.

Some state and local laws do require employers to bear the full cost of work uniforms. Employers are always required to pay for any clothing or equipment required to comply with federal work safety regulations. Under the federal tax code, employees may deduct their out-of-pocket uniform cost if their employer requires them to wear the uniform and the uniform is not suitable for everyday wear.

In addition to uniforms, employers can set standards for personal appearance and grooming for their employees. These can include guidelines on hairstyle, facial hair, visible tattoos, piercings and jewelry. Employers can set appearance guidelines for employees, but they must be reasonable and applied in a non-discriminatory fashion. Generally, dress codes, uniforms, grooming requirements, or other appearance-based policies (such as no body piercings or visible tattoos) are legally permitted as long as they are applied equally to all employees. However, employees can make claims against employers under federal and State anti-discrimination laws if, for example, appearance guidelines infringe on an employee’s religious belief or practice or gender identity. An exception to this could occur is the appearance policy is deemed necessary for health and safety reasons.

It is important to be aware of the laws surrounding discrimination, employment and uniforms. If you have any additional questions on what’s legal and what’s not—please contact PCW Law Firm.

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