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If you require staff to wear a uniform, do you have to fund it?

Posted in : Seamus Says - Employment Law Discussion on 4 May 2018
Seamus McGranaghan
O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors

Q: If you require staff to wear a uniform do you have to provide it? If so, can you pay a weekly amount into their wage or can you deduct a reasonable amount?

Scott: If you supply jackets, blouses, etc., for requesting that staff wear black trousers and shoes, do you then need to provide the shoes and trousers, or does the employer need to do that? If you do have to provide, can you pay a weekly amount into the wage for the items or can we deduct a reasonable amount from the wages if we require the employee to pay? So, what’s reasonable? We’re asking somebody to effectively pay for part of their uniform.

Seamus: It is an interesting question. It’s one that I was just doing some research at the start of the year. But essentially, what you’re looking about here is it’s a contractual provision with respect of uniforms, there should be something within the contract that details the issues out into the contract of employment, what the requirements of the contract are. Really, the key thing from a legal point of view is looking at the minimum wage aspect.

When we come about uniforms, I remember my own days, you got a top to work and you were required to wear black trousers, black shoes. There was no requirements in terms of additional funding or anything that was provided in relation to that. I think the employees do need to be careful where you’re looking at the minimum wage aspect so that the employees that are in the lower scale in terms of salaries.

Scott: So, if you were asking them to contribute or deducting money from a salary, if that falls below the national minimum wage, that’s unlawful.

Seamus: Yes. It’s going to lead to problems, particularly with the revenue customs. I’m aware of previous clients of mine in terms of complaints and things that have been needed. So, you’re really looking at issues in and around what the contract says, does the contract provide for the employee to wear a uniform and was that signed up and agreed in advance of the person taking on their employment.

Scott: This may not be a full uniform. This might be just a dress code. So, you’re saying, ‘Wear black blazers and shoes.’ You go into bars, you find that kind of thing, the bar won’t supply black trousers and shoes. They all wear different black trousers and different black shoes. That’s probably reasonable enough that you expect somebody to turn up if they want the job, you’re wearing a fairly basic . . . call it a uniform, but it’s not, really, it’s a dress code. That’s fine.

Seamus: That’s probably what our expectations are for a lot of those jobs. Going back to the piece ‘The Guardian’ ran back in January, they were really looking at offenders in relation to national minimum wage. They looked at companies such as Wagamama, TGI Fridays, Marriott Hotels, Karen Millen was also thrown in there in relation to that. They had a total of £1.3 million in fines that had to be paid back to employees because of those issues in terms of how the contract was drafted in terms of the uniform itself. Wagamama, they had to pay over £133,000 to 2,630 workers.

It’s interesting because they do cover off in relation to the fact that the employees were required to wear black jeans was the requirement. There was a complaint then in relation to the fact that I’m asked to wear black jeans but I don’t have black jeans. I’m going to have to go and buy those, whether or not there’s a sum of money that has to be paid in relation to that.

The other interesting one was at the Karen Millen shops, their employees were required to wear that brand of fashion and they were required to buy it. They did get a discount in terms of it, but if you’re an employee that’s earning £30,000, £40,000 a year and it’s your requirement in the contract, I don’t see a difficulty with it. But you do need to be careful where you have an employee in a minimum wage, maybe the student-type jobs and things like that that you’ll get. Maybe they’ll need a contract of eight to ten hours a week and they’re required to buy certain items. Ultimately, they’re going to fall below the national minimum wage.

It does bring me back to a few years ago. I assisted a client in terms of it was a client in the hospitality industry. They had on-site accommodation provided for their workers. They would have a lot of foreign national workers and they charged for the accommodation and they actually deducted that at source from the salary, so whenever the employee got their wage slip, they could identify that there were deductions being made, and that’s important in terms of the employee being aware of any deductions that were made, but the employee was aware of what they were paying.

To be fair, they weren’t paying a huge amount of money. It was a well-reduced rate they were being charged. But again, they were workers that were close to the threshold in terms of minimum wage, HMRC investigated it. They interviewed my client in terms of what it was they were doing and ultimately, they had a fine to pay and they had reimbursements to pay back to the employees as well. I think for any deductions an employer is making from an employee, always that source will go back to the contract and bear in mind then the minimum wage issues as well.

Scott: Just for clarification, if this were a PPE, a personal protective equipment issue, then it was to stop any damage that happens to the employee, the employer would have to provide and pay for all that. So, they have to pay for the safety boots and hats and all that kind of gear.

Seamus: Yes.

Scott: That’s not the case in this particular instance, it’s just on almost a uniform and a dress code, but if it’s protective clothing, that’s the employer’s . . .

Seamus: It’s different. Yes. That’s the employer’s responsibility. That’s a health and safety matter. So, you’re talking about if you’re working with toxic materials or anything like that, appropriately you should be protected in terms of that and you’re not expected to deal with the cost of those yourself. That’s for the employer.

Scott: Just on this question, if you’re making deductions as an employer, you have to have that in writing before any deductions are made from wages.

Seamus: Yes, unlawful deductions, that’s right. Again, you’re looking back to your contract to make sure that the contract is clear in terms of that I would have come across clients of mine, in particular I recall a woman at a petrol station where they had a lot of drive-offs where people hadn’t paid for their petrol and the employer would come back to the employees and say, ‘I’m deducting this money from your wages,’ not in the contract, not what the expectation was and illegal.

 

This article is correct at 04/05/2018
Disclaimer:

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Seamus McGranaghan
O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors

The main content of this article was provided by Seamus McGranaghan. Contact telephone number is 028 9032 1000 or email seamus.mcgranaghan@oreillystewart.com

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