Retailers who require their staff to buy and wear their brand’s product have been issued a warning by the workplace watchdog.
Employees from a range of Australian stores have publicly complained that they have had to spend a significant percentage of their wages on current stock.
The issue led the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) to issue a memorandum stipulating that retailers are in breach of the Fair Work Act by requiring staff to pay for current stock out of their earnings. Even in cases where a retailer offers a staff discount, the business is still bound by law to reimburse the employee for costs incurred.
FWO issued the following uniform and clothing Q&A:
Can I require an employee to buy clothing from my own store to wear to work?
No, you can’t require an employee to buy specific clothing from your store to wear to work unless you reimburse them.
Under the Retail Award, if you require your employees to wear any ‘protective’ or ‘special’ clothing as a condition of their job you must either:
provide or pay for the clothes, or reimburse your employees for the cost of buying the clothes.
In addition to this, the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act) prevents an employer from requiring an employee to spend any part of their wages if the requirement is unreasonable in the circumstances. What is or is not reasonable will need to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
What is ‘protective’ or ‘special’ clothing?
Under the Retail Award, ‘protective’ or ‘special’ clothing such as a uniform, dress or other clothing that you require your employees to wear can include: uniforms, such as a T-shirt with the company’s logo on it items for workplace health and safety reasons, such as a protective apron specific designs or clothing from floor stock.
You can ask your employees to wear clothing that they would reasonably be expected to own already, such as neat casual clothing or black or white clothing.
Can I require my employees to wear ‘current’ or ‘in season’ stock?
Yes, however if you require your retail employees to buy and wear ‘current’ or ‘in season’ stock from your business to work in, you must:
- supply and/or pay for the clothes, or
- reimburse the employee for purchasing the clothing they wear to work (whether the clothing is purchased by the employee at the full or discounted price), and
- reimburse the employee for the cost of replacing the items when replacement is due to normal wear and tear.
What if my employees are covered by an agreement?
Any term of the agreement that requires an employee to spend any part of their pay in relation to the performance of work would be subject to the FW Act. If the requirement is unreasonable in the circumstances then the term of the agreement will not apply.
It’s important that you make sure that any store policy, employee manual or contract of employment is consistent with your obligations and your employee’s entitlements under the Retail Award and the Fair Work Act.