Employers in Utah often require their employees to wear uniforms, some of which are quite expensive. Utah employers often want their employees to bear the costs of these uniforms. Under Utah and federal law, can they do this? As with many legal questions, the answer is “it depends.”
Uniforms Cannot Cut into Overtime and Minimum Wage Pay
Employers must follow the rules and regulations set forth in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Currently, for non-exempt employees (i.e. employees not subject to minimum wage and overtime pay requirements), the minimum wage in Utah is the federal minimum wage under the FLSA: $7.25 per hour. Employers cannot pay an employee less than minimum wage, and employers must pay overtime pay when an employee works more than 40 hours in a work week.
What do these requirements have to do with uniforms? Uniforms are considered a business expense, and if the employer wants to pass this expense on to the employee, the employee’s pay cannot be reduced below minimum wage, and the employee’s pay must still include overtime pay. For example, if the employee only makes minimum wage, the employer cannot charge the employee for the uniform because this would clearly dip into the employee’s minimum wage. (A minimum wage employee makes about $290 in a 40-work week.) However, an employee making, say, $15 an hour earns about $600 a week. Thus, a portion of this weekly wage ($310) could probably be applied to uniforms without dipping into the employee’s guaranteed minimum wage ($290).
If the amount an employee makes is slightly over minimum wage, there wouldn’t be much left to cover an expensive uniform. In this case, the employer can slowly deduct whatever excess there is above minimum wage over a period of weeks or months to gradually cover the costs of the uniform.
An employer should always, always, always pay a non-exempt employee both minimum wage and overtime pay. The potential penalties for failing to do so may be very harsh. Employees can bring a lawsuit against the employer to enforce these penalties.
Authorization for the Uniform Deduction Should Be in Writing
In addition to the requirements of the FLSA, Utah employers must also follow Utah laws and regulations regarding wages. Generally, under Utah law, an employer cannot “withhold or divert part of an employee’s wages unless . . . the employee expressly authorizes the deduction in writing.” (There are other reasons an employer may be required to withhold an employee’s wages.) So, to be safe, the employer should ensure that the employee acknowledges the uniform deduction in a written agreement. Otherwise, the employer could potentially be in danger of being sued by the employee. But a lawsuit is not a likely result if the employer and employee have a good relationship. Obviously, lawsuits are much more common when the relationship breaks down and the employee is fired or quits.
This post briefly discussed some basic employment principles with respect to uniforms and wage deductions. It does not discuss every nuance under employment law that an employer should consider when making decisions regarding wage deductions for uniforms—or other similar issues. A qualified employment law attorney can help navigate these issues. Similarly, employees should consult an attorney regarding potential wage claims. For any of these issues, I am happy to help. I offer a free consultation. My direct dial is 801-365-1021, and you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.