Can your employer make you pay for your own personal protective equipment? If it drops your pay below minimum wage, probably not.
These days, it seems like we are in a whole new world of "social distancing," masks, gloves, and remote work. Thanks to the coronavirus, employers and employees are learning new rules.
Unfortunately, some employers forgot an old rule - companies cannot make their workers pay for clothes and equipment needed to work, if paying for those items drops an employee below minimum wage.
This is now coming up in the context of employers requiring employees to purchase or provide PPE - personal protective equipment like masks and gloves.
Employers must pay wages "free and clear." This means the employer cannot require an employee to pay for or provide tools or equipment needed to do their job. This can include PPE, like masks. Here are some rules of thumb to keep in mind:
1. If paying for personal protective equipment required to do your job takes your total wage below minimum wage for the week, you might have a claim for unpaid wages/under-reimbursed expenses.
2. If you paid for personal protective equipment in a week in which you worked overtime hours and received overtime pay, you might have a claim for unpaid wages/under-reimbursed expenses.
Biller & Kimble, LLC's wage and hour lawyers are well-versed in recovering un-reimbursed expenses for delivery drivers who are required to use their own vehicles (like pizza delivery drivers). We are now using that expertise to help employees who are forced to provide their own PPE to work.
We would be happy to discuss your case with you for free and at no obligation on your part. You have nothing to lose by calling us.
Frequently asked questions
Can my employer make me provide or pay for my own mask or other PPE to work?
If you are paid at or close to minimum wage, the answer is probably not. This is because virtually any purchase, whether it is for a mask, gloves, or a uniform, is likely to drop your wage below minimum wage. If you are paid tipped minimum wage or close to regular minimum wage, and your employer requires you to provide or pay for your own PPE (personal protective equipment), then you might have a claim for un-reimbursed expenses.
Can my employer make me provide my own personal protective equipment (like masks) if I make more than minimum wage?
Maybe. Depending on your state, there may be special rules that apply and prevent your employer from forcing you to purchase PPE to do your job. Also, if you work overtime in a week when you purchased your own PPE, then you might have a claim.
Can my employer make me clean or launder my masks?
Unfortunately, this is a question that requires us to delve into the specifics of your situation. There are circumstances, however, where you must be compensated for having to launder or clean PPE, like masks.
If you think you may have a claim or just have a question, call us today at (513) 202-0710 to discuss your situation with a free, no obligation consultation.
What about working remotely? Can your boss require you to buy things like a computer, camera, or video conferencing software?
Just like masks, gloves, and personal protective equipment, your company might have to reimburse you the cost of any equipment you had to purchase to work from home. The rules on this are complicated, so it is best to consult with an attorney to discuss your specific situation and options.
A general rule is that if any purchase reduced your wage below minimum wage or happened in a week when you worked overtime, you might have a claim. If you do, call us at (513) 202-0710 to discuss your options.
COVID-19 has changed a lot, but the law on employee expenses is something we are very familiar with. Our firm is known for recovering under-reimbursed vehicle expenses for delivery drivers and un-reimbursed expenses for service workers. We can use our deep expertise in this area to fight for workers who are forced to provide their own masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment in order to work.
Many of our results are included on Our Victories page. Obviously, every case is different, and we cannot guarantee any particular result.
Want the legal details?
If you want some of the specifics on the federal rules and laws that apply to whether your employer has to reimburse you for requiring you to provide or pay for PPE, this is the place to find it.
Personal Protective Equipment Reimbursement Claim Basics
Rule 1: FLSA Regulation 29 C.F.R. 531.35 requires companies to pay wages "free and clear." This is lawyer-speak for the idea that a company cannot tell an employee "I will pay you minimum wage if you pay me $3.00/hour." A company isn't really paying minimum wage if they require the employee to pay something back.
Rule 2: FLSA Regulation 29 C.F.R. 531.35 spells out that requiring an employee to purchase and provide "tools of the trade" is the same thing as making the employee pay money back to the employer. In other professions, this often comes up when an employer requires a minimum wage employee to purchase a uniform.
Rule 3: Personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, if required for work, can be a "tool of the trade" just like a uniform.
Rule 4: As a result, if the cost of the PPE would drop the employee's wage below minimum wage OR occur during a week that the employee works overtime, companies are probably required to reimburse employees for their expenses.
If your employer has required you to purchase or provide your own personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks or gloves, and you think you might have a claim or even just have a question, please contact us at (513) 202-0710. We would be happy to discuss your options and rights. The call is free and there is no obligation.