Many businesses require employees to wear uniforms on the job. This can include everything from simple shirt-and-pants combos to a more complicated style of uniform that specifically shows off the company’s style. Uniforms have plenty of value. They create a sense of ownership in the company, set employees apart from customers throughout the store, and give employees a specific item that they have to wear, rather than trusting to employees to follow nebulous dress codes on their own. Understanding how uniforms are legally defined, however, is important to any employee who works in a place that requires them.
What Is a Uniform?
Uniforms are legally defined as specific items of clothing that must be worn by employees in a particular location and that can’t be worn by individuals in a specific profession no matter what establishment they choose to work for. Employers who require uniforms must reimburse their employees for them. Establishing a dress code, on the other hand, allows employers to establish standards for how employees must dress without needing to reimburse them for that expense.
Uniform Vs. Dress Code
Employees in certain professions have specific items that they need to wear. For example:
- Individuals in construction may be required to wear a specific standard of work boots
- Restaurant employees may be required to wear non-skid shoes
- Individuals employed at a hospital may be required to wear scrubs–including specific colors of scrubs based on their actual profession or where they work in the hospital (purple scrubs for nurses in the maternity ward, for example)
In all of these cases, these items are usable no matter where the employee chooses to work. No matter what construction company a worker chooses to work for, for example, they’re still going to need a good, sturdy pair of work boots. Nurses can wear scrubs no matter where they’re working, though they may need specific colors based on their actual location. Other items, however, are not just highly specific examples of a dress code–they’re actually a uniform, and the employer is responsible for reimbursing employees for that expense. This could include:
- Requiring employees to dress in the clothes sold by a clothing company, especially if those clothes must be updated seasonally
- Specific shirts that are required for employee wear every day (note that some restaurants and other facilities dodge around this rule by offering the option for employees to purchase additional shirts and wear them instead of their regular uniform)
- Anything that bears the company’s specific logo or other information specific to the company.
Why It Matters
Many employers want their employees to maintain a highly exacting standard of dress, but they don’t want to have to reimburse them for it. Abercrombie and Fitch, for example, currently has numerous lawsuits pending against it due to a dress code that required employees to purchase clothing from the company–and with good reason. Abercrombie and Fitch required its employees to maintain exacting dress code standards, including things like hairstyle and fingernail length. Not only that, it insisted that they wear the store’s clothing brand to work each day–and insisted that employees update their wardrobe when the season changed and a new catalog came out. Employees who failed to follow these regulations were sent home. Aiman-Smith and Marcy continues to work with these employees in order to help them receive legal justice.
It’s not just Abercrombie and Fitch that needs a full understanding of the difference between work uniforms and an office dress code. By paying attention to the legal descriptions of uniforms versus dress codes, employers can avoid violating the law by insisting that their employees make forced purchases or that they wear specific items that can’t be used elsewhere in their professions. Employees, on the other hand, will benefit from a strong understanding of the law so that they don’t end up spending their hard-earned money on more clothes that will enable them to continue working for the company.
At Aiman-Smith and Marcy, we’re handling a number of the lawsuits pending in the Abercrombie and Fitch case, and we’re dedicated to offering the same commitment and service to your lawsuit. If you believe that you’ve been subjected to unfair uniform regulations or that your company hasn’t reimbursed you properly, contact us today to learn how we can help you get the restitution you deserve.