Published in the Union Leader
Q: I run a business in New Hampshire that requires each employee to wear a specific uniform with our company logo on the sleeve. Can I deduct the costs of these uniforms from my employees’ paychecks, or do I need to cover the costs?
A: When it comes to the type of fee that can be imposed on employees or deducted from their wages, New Hampshire labor laws are stricter than most. The costs of uniforms are no exception. In this state, an employer is prohibited from requiring an employee to wear a uniform, unless the uniform is provided to the employee for free. If this mandated uniform requires any particular maintenance (e.g., special cleaning), it is the employer’s obligation to pay for it. Should the employee quit or leave the job without returning the uniform, the employer cannot make a deduction from the final wages of the departed employee.
A “uniform” is defined under NH’s wage withholding statute as “a garment required by the employer with a company logo or fashion of distinctive design, worn by one or more employees, and serving as a means of identification or distinction.” No employer may require an employee to wear a uniform falling within the scope of this definition unless it is provided to the employee at no cost to the employee. There are no exceptions to this restriction and limitation.
The narrow definition of what constitutes a “uniform” does allow employers some flexibility in dictating what their employees wear. An employer may require an employee to pay the cost of any mandated clothing that is not considered a “uniform” by this definition. This could mean a restaurant making servers dress generally in dark-colored pants and a white shirt, a hospital requiring its staff to wear slip-resistant shoes, or any other company imposing a manner of dress that does not include a unique logo or distinctive design that serves as a means of identification or distinction. Additionally, with written authorization from the employee, an employer can make deductions from wages for voluntary rental fees of non-required clothing, and for voluntary cleaning of uniforms.
The question, ultimately, is whether these mandatory work clothes further your company’s brand and help customers identify your employees. If so, these benefits to your business come at the price of providing employees with their uniform, free of charge.
Kenton Villano can be reached at email@example.com.
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