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Employment Law Blog

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Department of Labor Opinion Examines Whether Restaurant Must Pay For Shoes

The Department of Labor has released a new opinion letter in which it examines a restaurateur’s policy specifying employee shoes.  The questions posed are: (1) Are the shoes part of a uniform, such that the employer must pay for them? (2) May the employer arrange for the purchase of the shoes and deduct the cost from the employee’s pay?

The DOL considered the following facts:

The Employer operates restaurants and requires employees to wear “dark-colored” shoes without prescribing any particular quality, brand, style, model, or type. Aside from color, the only other requirements are that they not be open-toed and that, for safety reasons, they not have a slippery sole. Employees may wear shoes they already own when hired or may purchase shoes from any vendor they may choose. Employees are free to wear the shoes outside of work.

The Employer has arranged a program through which employees may, solely at their option, purchase shoes from a shoe manufacturer. The manufacturer offers over 60 different slip-resistant shoes in a broad spectrum of styles and in numerous dark colors. If an employee chooses to purchase shoes from this vendor, the employee may either pay the vendor directly or the Employer will pay the vendor and deduct the amount of the payment from the employee’s paycheck over a number of weeks. In some instances, the deductions may cause the remaining amount of the employee’s paycheck to fall below the minimum wage for each hour worked during that pay period. If the employee requests that the Employer pay for the shoes through a deduction, the employee must do so by submitting a request in writing describing the shoes to be purchased, requesting the Employer pay for the shoes, and authorizing the Employer to withhold future wages in an amount sufficient to reimburse the purchase costs. Neither the Employer, nor any person acting in its interests, realizes any profit or other benefit from the purchase program,

The DOL opined that the footwear was not a uniform. Quoting its Field Operations Handbook the opinion letter states: “If an employer merely prescribes a general type of ordinary basic street clothing to be worn while working and permits variations in details of dress, the garments chosen by the employees would not be considered to be uniforms.” More restrictive policies may lead to the opposite conclusion. “[W]here the employer does prescribe a specific type and style of clothing to be worn at work, e.g. where a restaurant or hotel requires a tuxedo or a skirt and blouse or jacket of a specific or distinctive style, color, or quality, such clothing would be considered uniforms.”

The DOL also examined whether the Employer may offer to advance the money necessary for employees to voluntarily purchase shoes from the shoe manufacturer and recoup the advance through payroll deductions where those deductions may cause the employee’s paycheck to fall below the minimum wage for each hour worked in the pay period.

The DOL determined that such a practice was acceptable under the FLSA. The FLSA includes as part of “wages” the “reasonable cost” to the employer for furnishing any employee with board, lodging or other facilities. The DOL opined that the shoes qualified as “other facilities.” “[A] deduction for the actual cost of the shoes is allowed under [the FLSA], even if it reduces the amount of the employee’s cash wages below the minimum wage, so long as the employer does not profit or include any administrative costs.”

The DOL letter notes that the rule would be no different for tipped employees.

To review the DOL opinion letter, click here.

Submitted by:
Christopher W. Olmsted, Esq.
Barker Olmsted& Barnier, APLC