Kindra K., Marketing Coordinator
The uniforms your employees wear are the first impression your company leaves on the community. Uniforms send a message about your level of professionalism, your expertise, and your approachability. And, according to at least one independent study, 75% of customers prefer when service employees such as auto workers wear uniforms.
Not only do uniforms make your team look more professional, they help build brand awareness. It takes about 5 to 7 impressions of your brand for someone to remember your company. Employees clad in custom logo uniforms help you earn name recognition more quickly.
But who should pay for uniforms? A recent discussion with some Housecall Pro customers revealed how they handle uniform expenses at their own home services companies. Some companies cover the entire cost while others split the price of uniforms with their new hires. But wait, could a company require employees to foot the entire bill? Here is what to consider about each option.
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A lot of our Housecall Pro customers feel strongly about paying for all employee uniform costs. They say things like
“[If] you want your employees to wear a specific uniform, you pay for it,” and “Don’t be cheap. Your company, your employees, your image.” Still, it’s normal to have questions.
Should I pay for my employee’s uniforms?
A lot of employers consider it their obligation to provide uniforms because wearing them is not voluntary. Free uniforms, however, could entice someone to work for you if their previous employer made them fork over a weekly charge for work attire.
On top of any ethical obligation, you may feel to provide uniforms for free, the benefits of paying for employee uniforms include:
You can apply strict rules for how and when uniforms are cleaned when you own them. Even if you’re renting uniforms from a third-party, employees may take rules more seriously if the company is paying. They won’t think “Well, I paid for the shirt, and I don’t care if it’s dirty.”
Paying for high-quality uniforms shows new employees you value your brand and reputation. You’ve invested money in the uniforms, you’re asking them to invest in doing the logo proud.
You can be sure every employee will have a proper uniform on day one. No excuses.
You can ask for the uniform back when an employee leaves and repurpose it for a new hire.
The potential pitfalls of paying out of pocket for either owned or rented employee uniforms include:
An employee who accepts a role only to quit shortly thereafter may not care enough to return their barely-worn uniform.
Some employees may have less incentive to care for their uniform if they didn’t pay for it.
How much should I pay for employee uniforms?
For most home services companies, paying for your employee uniforms isn’t an unreasonable financial burden. Custom Ink quoted us just over $9 per shirt for 50 custom t-shirts with front and back logo. If you have a little more to spend, you can check out an option like customized industrial shirts from about $19 per shirt. Industrial work pants often start at about $12/pair. Renting your uniforms? For a fleet of 10 workers, the weekly costs range from about $60-200, which usually includes a cleaning fee.
Remember: You’re investing in more than clothing. You’re also paying for brand awareness, advertising, and customer trust building when you get custom branded uniforms. $9/shirt isn’t so spendy all things considered.
Some employers find splitting the costs of uniforms works for them. Our Housecall Pro professionals have found solutions like “...we buy the initial uniforms (12 pairs). If they need more, they pay the difference” and “We charge employees $5/week [for uniforms], but we pay the bulk of the cost.” Price sharing can help a new home services company keep their costs low without placing an unreasonable burden on employees.
Should I split up the uniform cost with employees?
What uniform cost-sharing looks like for your business may differ depending on whether you’re buying or renting, and how much the uniforms cost to begin with. And (of course) there are potential pros and cons.
Pros to cost-splitting:
Employees may take better care of their uniforms since they have a financial stake in the matter.
Your company can keep uniform costs lower, opening up funds for other company improvements that benefit everyone.
You may be able to afford nicer uniforms if the employees' chip in a small percentage of the overall cost.
Potential cons to cost-splitting:
Paying for part of the uniform could make employees less motivated to return them when they leave.
Some employees might want a say in what they wear if they’re going to be contributing to the cost. If total control over the uniforms is important to you, asking for employee contributions could require some additional conversations.
How should we split the cost?
There are lots of ways to split the costs of uniforms. Here are just a few of the ways our Housecall Pro customers say they handle this division of expenses:
The company pays for the purchase or rental of uniforms, the employee pays for weekly cleaning costs (facilitated by the company). You could also split the costs the opposite way.
The employer provides one uniform per year and the employee pays for any other necessary replacements or desired extras.
The employee pays a small weekly fee, deducted from their paycheck, while the employer picks up the rest of the tab.
The employee and employer split the cost evenly, but employees are given a pay bump to help them cover ongoing uniform costs.
The employer offers to either split the cost of the uniform or pay the entire cost if the employee uses their own cell phone on the job.
The employer gives the employee an initial allowance of $200-300 to pay for uniforms, the employee pays future costs.
While our Pros don’t tend to suggest always making employees pay for their uniforms, the issue of employee-purchased attire still arises. There might be some times where an employee could or should pay for an entire uniform. We’ve mentioned some of these reasons already (such as when an employee simply desires an extra or loses the one you bought), but there are other times employees could buy their own uniform.
Before we discuss this option further, an important caveat: Federal law requires your employee’s paycheck to remain at or above minimum wage after you deduct any uniform-related costs. In some states, you’re not allowed to charge employees anything for mandated uniforms with a company logo on them. Always check state laws before imposing uniform charges on your workforce.
Under what circumstances should employees pay for their uniform?
A mandated uniform isn’t typically the responsibility of the worker, but here are some times you could reasonably ask an employee to pay for their company uniform:
When the uniform only consists of basics like khaki pants and a black shirt paired with a removable name tag. Your employee can pick out the style and brand they prefer, as long as it meets your professional standards.
When you offer uniform options. You could have a free-to-the-employee t-shirt uniform option and a polo shirt option available for purchase.
When you have worked out a discount instead of cost-splitting. For instance, maybe you’ve arranged a 60% discount with your uniform provider that the employee can take advantage of when they purchase on their own.
When you’re not going to ask employees for their uniform back when they quit. If the cost is low and the pants could be repurposed, you may consider asking employees to buy their own uniform and then sell it to another employee or keep it when they leave.
Bonus tip: If you do ask your employees to pay for their own uniforms, remind them that they may be able to deduct some of the cost on their taxes if they itemize their return.
If uniforms are too expensive, what are some cheaper alternatives?
For new companies, a high-quality uniform may be too expensive. Likewise, as you expand, you may find that you need to seek lower uniform costs to accommodate the bigger workforce. If a traditional, embroidered logo uniform is out of your budget -- there are a few alternatives.
Rentals. We’ve mentioned uniform rentals, but it’s worth reiterating. If you can find a great deal on generic uniform rentals, the service could work until you’re able to afford to buy. A rented top with a custom ball cap could be an affordable compromise when you still want your logo out there.
Dress codes. Consistent uniforms are ideal, but a professional dress code is a respectable alternative. Ask your technicians to wear khaki shorts and a polo in a certain color.
Magnetic name tags. If you can’t afford full-on uniforms, at least make sure your company name and logo are represented by each employee. You can get a DIY magnetic name badge kit for about $30 (set of 20 name badges). Metallic options are also available.
How you handle uniform purchasing is an important decision, and your method can change over time. It will probably depend factors like your budget, what your competitors are doing, and your history with employee uniforms. For instance, if you used to shoulder all uniform costs but employees constantly mistreated or lost them, we wouldn’t blame you for instituting cost-sharing.
Ask yourself these questions before you make the final call:
Do we want total control over what employees wear and how often their uniforms are laundered?
Can we afford to pay for uniforms for our entire workforce?
Is the industry standard in our area that workers should not have to pay for their uniforms?
If I ask employees to pay for their uniform, what perk am I prepared to offer in return?
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