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Caution advised when enforcing uniform rules

Caution advised when enforcing uniform rules

Q. As an employer, can I require my employees to pay for their uniforms?

A. The government’s recent naming and shaming exercise has penalised several organisations for making employees on national minimum wage pay for their own uniforms, leading to confusion on the correct uniforms protocol in the workplace.

As a general rule, employers can require employees to pay for their uniforms, excluding personal protective equipment, providing there is a contractual provision in place. A clause should be included in any contract of employment outlining the type of uniform required and explicitly state if the employee is expected to purchase this.  

Employers may require employees to pay for uniforms, however, as highlighted by recent HM Revenue & Customs enforcement action, extra care should be taken if the affected employees are paid at the rate of the current minimum wage appropriate to their age, or only slightly higher. Employers that require a uniform to be worn by the employee are prevented from making the employee pay if the deduction takes the employees’ wages below NMW.

Even companies that have a strict dress code risk falling foul of the minimum wage requirements. In a recent real life example, restaurant chain Wagamama required staff on the NMW rate to wear either casual black jeans or a black skirt. According to HMRC, in this situation, where the cost of the uniform would take the employees’ wages below NMW, the employer is legally required to reimburse the employee enough funds to ensure NMW requirements are met.

However, where employers do not have a uniform requirement but operate a loose dress code, this avoids the risk of falling foul of pay laws. For example many offices ask that their employees wear ‘smart work wear’. According to HMRC these employers may reasonably expect employees on NMW to purchase these items without the need to reimburse any funds, as this request is considerably less specific than Wagamama’s requirement to wear black jeans.

While companies are able to ask employees to pay for their uniforms, they should ensure the necessary wording is included in any workplace policy and consider if the cost of this uniform will take wages below NMW. 

Employers are strongly advised to conduct an internal review into their procedures as a precaution given the recent actions of HMRC, and make the necessary payroll changes ahead of April’s minimum wage increases.

Peter Done is managing director of law firm Peninsula