What is a “uniform”?
Many employers have learned the hard way that they can get in big trouble with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) if they make certain employees pick up the tab for their uniforms.
The DOL rules are pretty straight forward: If the clothes your employees wear to work are considered an official “uniform” -- that is, if the clothes are not simply regular street clothes your employees would be likely to have in their closets anyway -- you may not require employees to pay for these uniforms if such payment would reduce the employee’s wages below the minimum wage.
For example -- If you merely prescribes a general type of ordinary basic street clothing to be worn and permits variations in the details of dress, the garment is chosen by the employees would not be considered a uniform. If your only instructions are that an employee wear dark colored trousers or skirts and dark colored shoes, such items of clothing would not constitute a uniform.
A general rule of thumb: The more specific you are about what employees must wear to work, the more likely it will be considered an official uniform.
If you prescribe a specific type and style of clothing to be worn at work, e.g., where a restaurant or hotel requires a tuxedo or skirt and blouse or jacket of a specific or distinctive style, color and quality, such clothing would be considered uniforms.
Of course, any article of clothing that is associable with a specific employer, by virtue of an emblem (logo), or distinctive color scheme, would be considered a uniform.
Beware of requiring all white items (top, bottom and shoes) - the DOL has in the past ruled that because most people do not have white pants, shoes and tops in their wardrobes, the employer was responsible for providing them.
Again, these are general guidelines on what constitutes a uniform. Remember, that if you require a uniform to be worn, you may also be responsible for the laundering of such garments. Call us at 207/623-2178 if you have additional questions.
Source: National Restaurant Association’s The Legal Problem Solver for Foodservice Operators