There is a fine line between uniforms and dress codes, one that is vital for employee rights according to California law. Employers to enforce a dress code that could reasonably be constructed from an employee’s own closet do not have to pay for employee attire. Even if you have to buy a few new items of clothing to comply.
However, if your employer’s “dress code” crosses certain lines, it enters the realm of a uniform; something that the employer must pay for through provision or reimbursement. Considering the well-known tale of Abercrombie & Fitch, it’s easy to see why. Employers, by law, are not allowed to use exploitative dress codes to offload their overhead costs when what they are really asking for is an employee uniform, not a dress code at all.
So today, we are featuring the five types of dress code that are officially uniforms your CA employer must pay for, provide, or reimburse.
Your employer requires you to wear shirts, vests, or whole outfits that bear the company logo. This is very common in retail and hospitality where ‘branded employees’ are considered a handy way to make staff identifiable to customers. Logo-bearing shirts are not inherently bad, as long as your employer is providing (at no cost to you) the shirts they want you to wear.
A good CA employer will provide you with the shirts or give you credits to buy them at a specific online store. A law-breaking employer will try to make you buy the shirts from them or tell you where to buy their logo-branded uniforms without reimbursing you for the cost. Often after the job contract has already been signed.
Wearing the Brand Merchandise
The Abercrombie & Fitch case is a notorious employee-exploitation scam in which the well-known fashion label was forcing their low-paid retail workers to buy and wear the overpriced clothing while working the floor. Right down to the socks. This was effectively forcing employees to pay all of their wages right back to the company as unwilling customers who could not afford the products and resulted in a huge legal battle in which Abercrombie & Fitch lost.
So if your employer is forcing you to buy and wear branded merchandise, they are breaking the law. And they know it.
Theme Uniforms You Couldn’t Wear to Dinner (or Another Job)
Sometimes, an employer will try to get away with turning their dress code into a uniform so specific that all employees must buy specific items. Often from specific retailers designated by the employer. It’s one thing to make your dress code “button-down white shirt and black slacks”, which anyone could wear to dinner or another job.
It’s another to require you to wear, for example, criss-cross overalls in dark green, a bright yellow shirt with red cuffs, and platform shoes. If you couldn’t wear the outfit reasonably to a nice dinner or to another job right after, then it’s a uniform. If a reasonable person would not have this outfit anywhere in their closet or could only buy it from one retailer, it is a uniform. Which means your employer should be paying for it.
Mandatory Employer-Provided Clothing
Whether or not the items of clothing are branded or overtly uniform-like, your dress code is also a uniform if your employer only allows you to buy it from them or one specific retailer. This is a form of forced commerce and is not allowed to be considered a casual, or even formal, dress code.
It is, in fact, quite common in some industries to require employees to wear clothes from a specific supplier. In positions concerning lab safety or manufacturing, for example, you may need to wear very specific materials, have specific skin coverage, and so on. But no matter how plain the outfits look, if you are required to acquire them from your employer or their supplier, then this is legally a uniform (and/or safety equipment) and your employer should cover the costs.
However, if they simply list the specifications like that clothing must be 100% cotton, long sleeves, with close-toed leather shoes, this is a dress code and it’s on you.
Finally, there are costumes. Costumes fall under the ‘anything you can’t wear to dinner or another job’ principle. For example, if your employer requires you to wear a mascot suit to perform at birthday parties, they cannot make you buy or rent the suit. Likewise, an employer cannot require you to dress in any sort of non-normal-clothing costume ranging from themed outfits to generic Halloween costume gear without covering the costs because you would not reasonably have these things in your closet or be able to wear them for outside-work activities.
Is your employer forcing you to pay for clothing that is officially in the uniform, costume, or safety equipment categories? If so, they are breaking the law and there is a good chance that they are fully aware of this infraction. You don’t have to spend your hard-earned money paying for clothes you couldn’t wear to another job or events outside of work. You can stand up for your rights and the rights of all your coworkers being asked to do the same thing.
Here at Aiman-Smith and Marcy, we believe strongly that employee rights were written to be upheld and that companies take far too many liberties at the expense of their staff. Contact us today to find out how you can defend your rights through polite legal pressure, civil lawsuits, and class actions based on what is necessary to make your employer change their ways. We are here to defend your employee rights and the rights of every other employee who can benefit from your fight.