Suit Yourself! Your Employer Must Pay for Your Uniform

Don't be upset! In California, your employer must pay for your uniform.

Don’t be upset! In California, your employer must pay for your uniform.

In California, an employer may require its employees to wear uniforms. If an employer requires its employees to wear uniforms, however, it must provide and maintain them at its own expense. But a “uniform” means more than a police officer’s dress blues or a flight attendant’s beret. In certain cases, a “uniform” can even include a wife-beater shirt. In any case, an employer who requires employees to change their clothes at work better not record them or otherwise peep on them while they’re in the locker room. 

What’s a Uniform?

The term “uniform” includes any apparel or accessories of “distinctive design.”1 Wardrobe is of distinctive design if it isn’t “usual and generally usable in the occupation.”2 For example, a mechanic’s coveralls wouldn’t be of distinctive design in the automotive repair industry because they’re so common that a mechanic could wear them from one job to the next. But the same coveralls would be of distinctive design for a bartender or cook because no restaurant requires its employees to wear them.

In recent years, many employers have attempted to shift costs to their employees by requiring them to wear “casual” attire. But clothing can double as street wear and still be of distinctive design. For example, wife-beaters are so unusual in the financial services industry that they’d be of distinctive design if a bank were to require its tellers to wear them.3 On the other hand, wife-beaters are so common among drywallers that they wouldn’t be of distinctive design in the construction industry.

The definition of “uniform” also includes apparel and accessories of “distinctive color.”4 Like a design, a color is distinctive if it isn’t usual and generally usable in the occupation. For example, a restaurant that required its servers to wear bright yellow shirts and bright yellow pants would have to pay for such clothing, as those colors would be highly unusual for servers. But the restaurant could circumvent the obligation to pay for its servers’ clothing by requiring them to just wear any “bright” colors or to choose among several particular colors.

Changing Your Clothes at Work

Every employer must provide suitable lockers, closets, or equivalent for the safekeeping of its employees’ “outer clothing” during working hours and, if the employer prohibits them from leaving the premises with their work clothes, of their work clothing during non-working hours.5 If the occupation requires employees to change their clothing at work, the employer must also provide change rooms or equivalent space so that employees can change their clothing in reasonable privacy and comfort.6

Significantly, an employer who requires employees to change into or out of their uniforms at work must keep change rooms and equivalent spaces separate from bathrooms.7 More importantly, an employer may not record an employee in a locker room or change room without a court order,8 install or maintain a two-way mirror in any locker room or change room,9 or use a periscope, telescope, binoculars, or other instrumentality to look into a locker room or change room through any hole or opening.10

  1. IWC Wage Orders §9(A). 

  2. DLSE OP. Ltr. 1994.02.16. 

  3. See DLSE Op. Ltr. 1990.09.18. 

  4. IWC Wage Orders §9(A). 

  5. IWC Wage Orders §13(A). 

  6. Id

  7. Id

  8. Lab. Code §435(a). 

  9. Pen. Code §653n. 

  10. Pen. Code §647(j).