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May Employers Charge Employees for Uniforms, Tools, or PPE?
By: Michelle Higgins

When employees need special uniforms, tools, and personal protective equipment (PPE) to do their jobs, the costs can add up quickly.

Should employees be expected to foot the bill?

That will depend on who benefits from the item, and whether a state or federal law calls for employers to pay for it.

Uniforms and equipment

The costs of items that are primarily for the benefit or convenience of the employer — like uniforms and equipment — are generally subject to the laws for wage deductions.

This means there are limitations (often tied to state laws) that restrict what employers may charge employees.

Violations of these laws can occur in two ways:

1. DIRECTLY

This happens when an employer deducts the cost of an item from an employee’s pay, when the cost should have been paid by the employer; or

2. INDIRECTLY

This happens when the employee pays for the item and the employer fails to reimburse the employee.

The second point is crucial because it illustrates that employers cannot avoid wage deduction restrictions by asking employees to purchase something themselves.
Most state agencies view any requirement for out-of-pocket expenses as a deduction from wages, even though the money doesn’t come directly from the employee’s paycheck.

PPE

Many Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards require employers to provide PPE when it is necessary to protect employees from job-related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.

With few exceptions, OSHA requires employers to pay for PPE when it is used to comply with OSHA standards.
The PPE typically includes items such as:
  • hard hats,
  • gloves,
  • goggles,
  • welding helmets,
  • face shields,
  • chemical protective equipment, and
  • fall protection equipment.
The OSHA standard makes it clear that employers may not require workers to provide their own PPE and that workers’ use of their own PPE must be completely voluntary. When workers provide their own PPE, employers must ensure that the equipment provides adequate protection from hazards at the workplace.

Employers are not required to pay for some PPE in certain circumstances. Items that employees may be expected to pay for include:
  • steel-toe shoes or boots,
  • prescription safety eyewear,
  • everyday clothing, such as long-sleeve shirts, long pants, street shoes, normal work or rubber boots,
  • winter coats, hats, or raincoats,
  • ordinary sunglasses,
  • sunscreen, and
  • hair nets or gloves worn by food workers for consumer safety.
It’s important to remember that while employers sometimes want to pass along the costs for uniforms, equipment, tools, and PPE to employees, there are limits on the expenses employees can be expected to cover.

 
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