When Can an Employer Require an Employee to Pay for Uniforms Required by the Employer?

Q.     It’s April Fools’ Day, and this year a few of my employees took their practical joking to the next level. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say this year’s prank made a mess and now I am going to have to provide at least one of my employees with a replacement uniform—which all employees are required to wear during working hours—in order for the employee to finish his shift.

The thing is, I provide each employee with three complete uniforms upon hire. I also replace those uniforms when they become scruffy due to normal wear-and-tear. If an employee damages, loses, or otherwise requires additional uniforms, I make the employee pay for the replacement out of his or her own pocket. While I might make an exception for the above-mentioned practical joke victim, I don’t want employees thinking they can get away with damaging or misplacing their uniforms, and then, expect me to foot the bill for replacements. What does the law say about this?

A.     As a threshold matter, employment lawyers forbid all fun at work.  There are indeed rules regarding employee deductions and uniform costs.  Specifically, Labor Code section 2802 requires that employers cover all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by employees as a direct consequence of the discharge of employee duties or obedience to the directions of the employer.   Accordingly, an employer cannot require an employee to pay for uniforms required by the employer. Although it doesn’t sound like your duped employee meant to damage his uniform, if an employee continually fails to take care of his or her uniform, you may be better off disciplining the employee rather than requiring him or her to pay for replacement uniforms.

If you keep having your employees pay to replace their own uniforms, you could end up with a costly lawsuit on your hands—and that would be no laughing matter.

This Legal Update / Bulletin is for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. The hypothetical question is posed to illustrate a point and does not contemplate all potential legal considerations This update should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

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