UnderCover Waitress: Who Should Pay for the Uniform?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Who Should Pay for the Uniform?

Ask the Waitress!
I've been a server for 20 years and have always been charged for my uniform. I make 2.13 an hour and have been told it is illegal to charge someone who does not make minimum wage. Please help me my restaurant has recently changed the uniform and now the shirts cost 20 bucks a pop and they fade super fast which requires us to buy them more frequently.
I remember working for a restaurant that kept changing our clothing requirements. I actually said to one of the owners, "If you keep changing the uniform, I can't afford to work here." Heh.

Personally, $20 a pop for something that is made poorly enough to need to be replaced often suggests to me that somebody is making money off of the "uniform business." Might make better sense for your employer to choose a better quality uniform.

Is it Illegal? 

There are no federal requirements that employers must pay for worker clothing, even if that clothing is required for work. It does not matter if you make $2.13 or $21.30 per hour; you can be required to fund your wardrobe.

It is, however, illegal for you to go home with less than full minimum wage per hours worked. In other words, if you work twenty hours one week, and your tips plus $2.13 per hour do not equal full minimum wage, your employer owes you money to make up the difference.

Your tips should bring you up to full minimum wage or higher. It is perfectly legal for your employer to require you to purchase your uniform, regardless of how much money you make.

State Laws

I don't know of any state that restricts employers from requiring workers pay for their uniforms. If you think your state may, feel free to write me which state you work in so I can look into it.


The cost of your uniform may or may not be tax-deductible. If you are required to purchase clothing for work that can not be worn outside of work hours, the cost is tax-deductible. Examples include funky, striped vests with the company name embroidered on them, or special work overalls.

The Dansko clogs that so many of us wear and love are not tax-deductible because they can be worn outside of work hours. The same is true of uniforms that simply consist of black pants and a white blouse.

Sorry I don't have better news for you. I don't want to get you into trouble at work; things that come to mind include wearing the faded uniform or washing it less often, but that could get you in trouble. If you are comfortable mentioning that the cost feels prohibitive to a manager, that may help.

While your employer is hurting morale and making it less lucrative to work there, they are doing nothing illegal.

Thanks for asking the waitress! 


  1. The only time I had this going on was when I worked security. There was no charge on the uniforms, though I did have to return them, of course. They did require that I buy the safety shoes myself. Those shoes lasted me three or four years, so they were a good investment.

    1. I feel the same way about Dansko clogs. Expensive and necessary, but a great investment.

      I had an employer who, when the restaurant first opened, supplied shirts for everyone. When the college kids took off after the summer and kept the work clothing, he stopped footing the bill. He had expected they would return them. Messed it up for the rest of us, but I understood his problem at the time. Not sure if it was a communication issue -- he never told them he wasn't buying them clothes -- or if they should have known better.


Please share your thoughts.