Government Uniform Crackdown Could Cost You

Any form of dress code counts as a uniform and the government are cracking down.

When uniforms are mentioned (in relation to hospitality before you go down that route), we tend to think of TGI Friday or The Savoy type getups, however the government has a much looser definition. If you require your staff to wear black, jeans, certain footwear (e.g. flat shoes only), shirts, aprons, even ‘smart clothes’, basically anything apart from whatever they want to, you are liable for the cost.

Simply put if you don’t provide your staff with an outfit or allow them to wear whatever they want you need to reimburse them for their purchases if this cost takes them below the minimum wage.

Last year aforementioned TGI Friday’s and Wagamama got into trouble for exactly this but it wasn’t just the big boys who got hit up, 179 companies were fined last March and a lot of them were small companies with just a hand full of employees. As far as what this fine can be it is not just the reimbursement of the money but a fine of up to 200% of the reimbursement figure.

This is all based on the National Minimum Wage (NMW) which is going up in April so this is the ideal time to start thinking about where you stand. The new minimum wage structure looks like this:

Year 25 and over 21 to 24 18 to 20 Under 18 Apprentice
April 2019 (current rate) £8.21 £7.70 £6.15 £4.35 £3.90
April 2020 £8.72 £8.20 £6.45 £4.55 £4.15

Any uniform costs will be taken off their Gross payment figure before the hourly rate is calculated. This must fall above the NMW or you are liable. The problem is if you have no uniform clause in your employment contract then you are open to your staff buying their ‘uniform’ from any store they like and therefore with whatever price tag they like.

Simply put if you pay a staff member over 25 £9 an hour for 35 hours a week and they are paying more than £510 a year (or just £43 a month) for ‘uniform’ to wear to work you are breaking the law.

If you have nothing in their contract about this area then a member of staff could feasibly spend £2,000 on ‘uniform’ clothing and based on the above calculation complain to the government (a very easy process that takes all of 5 mins online) and you’d be in trouble. You’d end up owing them £1,490 plus you could be fined up to 200% of this figure.

With new NMW coming in it provides the perfect opportunity for new contracts to be drawn up with your staff to include a uniform section. There are a couple of ways of doing this: if you are a big enough employer it may be best to buy the ‘uniforms’ for your staff and hand them out (they are legally required to return them at the end of their employment if you chose this route), or you can give a reasonable uniform allowance in the contract and if they spend over that they are liable for any extra costs (this then makes it much easier to ensure the NMW is being hit), or you let your staff wear whatever they want.

We strongly suggest you have an employment lawyer double check anything you draw up.

The government are going to be coming after companies hard this year with regards to NMW payments and will not only be handing out fines but also naming and shaming those who fall foul of the minimum. It appears that uniforms are a way they plan on tripping people up, so it is worth making sure you are on top of this.