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Who Pays to Wash Your Workplace Uniform in New York City?

August 21st, 2015 Christopher Davis

Many, if not most, employers in New York City’s restaurant and service industries mandate that employees wear uniforms while on the job. And many classes of workers in New York City, including delivery drivers, government employees, and hospitality personnel, often must adhere to strict guidelines regarding their appearance and the condition of their uniform. But did you know that there are legal guidelines that employers must follow when it comes to mandating uniforms? Here are a few things we think you should know:

  • Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the cost and maintenance of a required uniform is considered to be a business expense of the employer.

Employers cannot ask you to purchase your own uniform if doing so would bring your pay below the minimum wage or reduce the overtime pay you are owed. In either of these scenarios, if you were asked to purchase your own uniform and were not reimbursed, your company must pay you for the purchase cost. Additionally, if you are given an allowance for uniform maintenance as part of your paycheck, the amount cannot count towards the minimum wage—it must be a separate sum given in addition to your hourly pay.

  • Dress codes can be considered uniforms, too.

If your employer doesn’t issue a traditional uniform, but enforces a specific dress code, that could also count as a uniform, depending on the dress code’s strictness. If employers prescribe a specific type and style of clothing to be worn at work—for instance a white collared shirt with black pants—those items count as a uniform, even if specific brands are not mandated and the clothing is not provided by the employer. Meanwhile, broader dress codes such as “steel-toed boots and long pants” aren’t considered to constitute a uniform. Generally, guidelines dictating the style, color, or quality of particular items of clothing are a good indication that the outfit is a uniform.

  • Under New York law, there are set amounts that your employer must pay you for uniform maintenance, in addition to your hourly wage.

If you work more than 30 hours per week and are required to wash and maintain your own uniforms, your employer is obligated to pay you $9.00 per week on top of your hourly wage to reimburse you for the cost of laundering your uniform. All employers in the hospitality industry must observe this rule, unless they provide employees with enough “wash and wear” uniforms (requiring no special care) to last an entire work week. This means that if you work 40 hours per week, before taxes, you should be making $359 every week instead of $350. Over time, those amounts can quickly add up. If you work 20-30 hours per week, your employer owes you an additional $7.10 weekly, and if you work under 20 hours, you are owed $4.30. For a part-time job of 5 hours per week, the uniform maintenance fee represents roughly one-tenth of the employee’s weekly earnings. That’s a 10% pay raise, just for doing your laundry and knowing your legal rights.

If you believe you’ve been treated unfairly, or if you believe your employer is violating the law, please reach out to our firm via telephone or the “Live Chat” feature. We are happy to assist you with advice or a free case consultation.