The question of “who pays?” is more abstract than it sounds. There are different types of work tools—including personal protective equipment (like gloves) and company uniforms. The U.S. Department of Labor sets a few blanket guidelines:
So, if you are paid minimum wage, then you cannot be asked to pay for anything extra—as it would de-facto reduce your income unlawfully low. Also, it cannot be deducted from any overtime pay you might receive.
If you are paid above $7.25 an hour, then an employer may technically deduct from your wages to pay for uniforms or job equipment (even if that equipment is required by law).
Federal OSHA guidelines do not require employers to buy gloves and hairnets for food workers.
It’s worth noting, however, that having employees pay for their own gear could be bad for business. Employees that feel unappreciated may seek work elsewhere.
The second element is state law. Some states choose to get much pickier about employees bearing the costs of doing business.
Below is a quick summary of state laws on uniforms. Check your state's Department of Labor website for more information. As laws can be difficult to understand, let alone find—consider talking to an employment lawyer for specific guidance.
|Usually Employers||Usually Employees||Notes|
The employer must pay if the uniform is required by law OR "cannot be worn during normal social hours".
The employer must pay for a uniform that identifies the business through a logo or company colors. They may deduct from paycheck for a generic uniform-- such as black pants.
The employer must pay for all uniforms that have a similar design, color, or material. This does not include a type of dress where variation is allowed (e.g. formalwear).
The employer has to pay for uniforms that you couldn't wear outside of that job. They may, however, require a deposit for the uniform (no more than $50).
Employers must have the deduction approved by the Connecticut Wage and Workplace Standards Division.
The employer must pay for any uniform that is "distinctive as to style, color or material", as well as its dry cleaning (if necessary).
The employer must pay for any garment with a company logo or that is otherwise distinctive.
The employer must pay for any uniform that's not appropriate for street wear nor for use at another establishment.
An employer must pay for uniforms. They do not, however, have to pay for a "dress code" (i.e. white shirt and black pants).
The cost may not, however, be deducted from wages.
The cost of the item may not be averaged over more than one pay period.
An employee may have to initially buy the uniform, but the employer must offer to buy it back for a "fair and reasonable" price at the end of employment.
There is an exception: if the employee is a day-laborer that requires safety equipment, clothing, and accessories by law, then the employer must buy them.
An employer must pay for a specific uniform, but not for attire within a dress code .
The employer must pay for uniform-- defined as clothing "of a specific style and color".
The employer must pay unless the uniform is ordinary streetwear with no special color, make, pattern, logo, or material.
The deduction cannot exceed 5% of the employee's weekly earnings (with a cap of $2,500 per year).