The Cost of Doing Business: Can I Require My Employees to Pay for Their Uniforms?

businesscostToday’s blog post is the first in a series of Q&A style posts we will be presenting over the next several months. In each post, we will share a question we are commonly asked by an employer or employee (or both!) and review the relevant law to help inform you of your rights and obligations in the workplace.

This week’s question: Can I require my employees to pay for their uniforms or training costs?

Answer: No.

Subsection 21(2) of the BC Employment Standards Act (ESA) expressly states that an employer must not require an employee to pay any of the employer’s business costs except as permitted by the regulations. In short, the cost of doing business must not be borne by employees.

So, what is a business cost? Here are some examples of things an employer may not charge an employee for:

  • Shampoo, conditioners, and other similar products used by an employee stylist in a hair salon.
  • The cost of operating a tool in performing employment duties, e.g. the cost of fuel where the faller employee operates a chainsaw.
  • Gas expenses for an employee driver.
  • Expenses incurred in making sales trips.
  • The cost of training courses.
  • Cell phone expenses where a cell phone is required for the employee to perform her job duties.
  • A uniform which a restaurant owner requires employees to wear.

This list is far from exhaustive. If you are unsure whether a particular expense constitutes a business cost under the ESA, it can be helpful to consider the purpose of the expense and who benefits from it. Of course, if you are still uncertain, seek the advice of an employment lawyer.

What happens if an employer charges any business costs to an employee, either by withholding wages, requiring the return of wages, or requiring the employee to pay for the cost directly? Any amounts charged to the employee in this way are considered “wages” under the ESA, which means that the employee can make an Employment Standards claim against the employer for the return of the monies withheld or paid out. If an employee’s claim is successful, the Director of Employment Standards will collect that money as unpaid wages from the employer.

Have questions about whether an expense is a “business cost” under the ESA? Contact us!

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