Who Pays for Employee Uniform Maintenance?

April 10, 2012

The California employment lawyers at Bisnar | Chase Personal Injury Attorneys, LLP noted a current case regarding uniform maintenance. If your employer requires you to wear a uniform to work, the employer usually must provide the uniforms for you. However, are you responsible for the cleaning bills for your uniforms? This is a question that the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of California considered in the 2008 case of O’Connor v. Starbucks Corp.

The Court determined in this case that if an employee does not need to have a uniform professionally laundered or otherwise specially cared for, the employer is not responsible for paying for the uniform’s upkeep.

The case involved a Starbuck’s employee who claimed that his aprons required professional laundering or dry cleaning and wanted the company to pay these bills. The employee claimed that he had spent his own money to properly clean the Starbuck’s aprons and wanted the employer to reimburse him for these costs. The case proceeded to the U. S. District Court where it was heard under the umbrella of wage and hour litigation.

The U. S. District Court justices decided in this case that there was insufficient evidence to show that professional cleaning was required for the employee aprons. Specifically, the Court determined that the aprons could in fact be machine-washed. Because of this finding, the Court ruled that Starbucks was not responsible for paying for the cleaning needed for the aprons, and noted that when “routine care” was all that was required to clean uniforms, the employer should not be held responsible for the cleaning bills.

Earlier court decisions of this type stated that employers must not only provide uniforms for employees if they were required to wear them to work but must also reimburse employees for time spent cleaning uniforms if special care was required such as hand-washing. This case is one of the first to address the issue of the responsibility of an employer to provide funds for special cleaning of uniforms and how to determine if the uniforms do, in fact, require special treatment.

The implications for employers are clear. Employee handbooks should address the uniform issues so that anyone who is hired is very clear on the employer’s and the employee’s responsibility regarding uniform maintenance, how many uniforms are provided per employee, and what standards are expected for employee uniform maintenance. Employers should also include information in employee handbooks that specifically outline how uniforms are to be cleaned and what funds, if any, are available for this maintenance. Uniforms should include labels that state “machine washable” if the uniforms can be laundered regularly. These precautions will help employers to avoid situations such as the one arising in O’Connor v. Starbucks Corp.

Employees should be sure to ask when hired about the expectations for uniform maintenance. If employees work at an establishment where uniforms are expected to be dry-cleaned, they should have a clear understanding of how the special car is to be paid for before investing their own money in uniform cleaning.

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