Many employers are tempted to charge an employee or deduct an employee’s wages for the cost of a uniform. Prior to passing the cost of a uniform to an employee, employers should be aware of several key requirements under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act (“MFLSA”).
Employers Must Not Effectively Reduce Employee’s Pay Below Minimum Wage
Employers should not charge an employee or deduct an employee’s wages for the cost of a uniform if it would effectively reduce the employee’s pay below the minimum wage (currently $7.25 per hour). The FLSA states that:
Whether in cash or in facilities, “wages” cannot be considered to have been paid by the employer and received by the employee unless they are paid finally and unconditionally or “free and clear.” The wage requirements of the Act will not be met where the employee “kicks-back” directly or indirectly to the employer or to another person for the employer’s benefit the whole or part of the wage delivered to the employee. This is true whether the “kick-back” is made in cash or in other than cash. For example, if it is a requirement of the employer that the employee must provide tools of the trade which will be used in or are specifically required for the performance of the employer’s particular work, there would be a violation of the Act in any workweek when the cost of such tools purchased by the employee cuts into the minimum or overtime wages required to be paid him under the Act. . . .
29 C.F.R. § 531.35. Additionally, the FLSA specifically addresses the cost of uniforms, providing that the cost cannot be included as part of an employee’s wage:
- The cost of furnishing “facilities” found by the Administrator to be primarily for the benefit or convenience of the employer will not be recognized as reasonable and may not therefore be included in computing wages.
- The following is a list of facilities found by the Administrator to be primarily for the benefit of convenience of the employer. . . . (iii) the cost of uniforms and of their laundering, where the nature of the business requires the employee to wear a uniform.
29 C.F.R. § 531.3(d) (emphasis added); see also 29 C.F.R. § 531.32 (c) (stating that “charges for rental of uniforms where the nature of the business requires the employee to wear a uniform” may not be included in computing wages). Similarly, under state law the MFLSA states:
No deductions, direct or indirect, may be made for the items listed below which when subtracted from wages would reduce the wages below the minimum wage: (1) purchased or rented uniforms or specially designed clothing required by the employer, by the nature of the employment, or by statute as a condition of employment, which is not generally appropriate for use except in that employment . . . .
Minn. Stat. § 177.24, subd. 4; see also Minn. R. 5200.0090 (“Deductions from the minimum wage, whether direct or indirect, may not be made for . . . the purchase or rental of uniforms . . . .”).
Further, under Minnesota law charging an employee for the cost of uniforms is considered an indirect deduction, even if the cost is not actually deducted from a paycheck or wages. Minn. R. 5200.0090, subp. 2, states:
An indirect deduction is any recoupment or payment received by an employer by methods other than payroll deductions, such as cash payments or endorsing over of checks, or the purchase or rental of any of the items listed in Minnesota Statutes, section 177.24, subdivision 4, by the employee directly from the supplier.
Id. Therefore, if an employer charges an employee or deducts an employee’s wages for the cost of a uniform (or any uniform) and such conduct directly or indirectly reduces the employee’s pay below the minimum wage, the employer would be in violation of the FLSA and MFLSA.
Any Deduction for Cost of Uniforms Cannot Exceed Fifty Dollars ($50.00)
Under the MFLSA, any charge or deduction an employer makes for the cost uniforms cannot exceed fifty dollars ($50.00). The law states, “[d]eductions, direct or indirect, for up to the full cost of the uniform . . . may not exceed $50 . . . .” Minn. Stat. § 177.24, subd. 4. Therefore, if the employer meets the minimum wage requirement above, it still cannot deduct more than fifty dollars ($50.00) for the cost of uniforms.
Employer Likely Must Obtain Employee’s Prior Written Authorization to Deduct or Charge for Uniforms
In the event that an employee needs another uniform because a uniform has been lost, damaged, or stolen, the employer must obtain written authorization from the employee to make any deduction or charge for the uniform. Minnesota law states:
No employer shall make any deduction, directly or indirectly, from the wages due or earned by any employee, . . . for lost or stolen property, damage to property, or to recover any other claimed indebtedness running from employee to employer, unless the employee, after the loss has occurred or the claimed indebtedness has arisen, voluntarily authorizes the employer in writing to make the deduction or unless the employee is held liable in a court of competent jurisdiction for the loss or indebtedness. . . . Any authorization for a deduction shall set forth the amount to be deducted from the employee’s wages during each pay period.
Minn. Stat. § 181.79, subd. 1(a). Therefore, after the need for a new uniform arises, the employer should get written authorization from the employee stating the amount to be deducted or charged for the uniform. If the employer violates this requirement, it “shall be liable in a civil action brought by the employee for twice the amount of the deduction or credit taken.” Minn. Stat. § 181.79, subd. 2.
Employers Must Reimburse Employees Upon Termination
If the employer charges or deducts the cost of a uniform from an employee’s wages, it must reimburse the employee for such costs or deductions at the termination of his or her employment. Minnesota law states:
An employer, at the termination of an employee’s employment, must reimburse the full amount deducted, directly or indirectly, [for uniforms]. . . . When reimbursement is made, the employer may require the employee to surrender any existing items for which the employer provided reimbursement.
Minn. Stat. § 177.24, subd. 5. Consequently, if an employer chooses to charge or deduct the cost of a uniform from an employee’s wages, the employer must keep a detailed record of the transaction for the purpose of accurately reimbursing the employee at the termination of an employee’s employment.
Prior to charging an employee or deducting an employee’s wages for the cost of a uniform, Minnesota employers should check with an attorney to ensure compliance with state and federal wage and hour laws. For more information about this subject, please contact one of the Trepanier MacGillis Battina P.A. labor and employment law attorneys.
 The requirements discussed in this article apply only to “non-exempt employees”. Non-exempt employees must be paid the minimum wage and overtime pay under the FLSA and MFLSA. The FLSA does not specifically define “non-exempt employees” but instead provides exemptions for certain employees, such as executive, administrative, professional, outside sales, and highly compensated employees. See 29 U.S.C. § 213. Employees who do not satisfy any of the specific exemptions under the FLSA are commonly referred to as “non-exempt” employees.
Minnesota employment law attorney Craig W. Trepanier has extensive experience representing employers and employees in matters involving wage and hour regulations, overtime pay, and misclassifications under the FLSA and MFLSA. Craig may be reached at 612.455.0502 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Trepanier MacGillis Battina P.A. is a Minnesota wage and hour law firm located in Minneapolis, Minnesota.