DEAR CARRIE: My daughter works at a local shoe store that is part of a national chain. She is required to buy and wear the company’s shoes. And the shoes must be a current style. So every couple of months she has to shell out money for a new pair of shoes, and sometimes I have to help because the shoes often cost more than $100. Is this a legal requirement?
— Shoe Doesn’t Fit
DEAR SHOE: The policy raises a red flag because it doesn’t seem to give the employees options. Generally when employers require employees to have a certain look, they encourage them, but don’t require them, to purchase and wear the latest company apparel and provide steep discounts on the items, said the New York State Department of Labor. And the employer also allows the workers to buy similar items elsewhere.
“In such a scenario, the business does not explicitly require that the employee purchase the company’s apparel and would allow the employee to wear apparel of similar style and color from another company,” the department said.
On the other hand, when a company mandates that employees wear specific apparel — or shoes — that would be tantamount to requiring them to wear a uniform, the department said. Then the onus is on the employer to pay.
“In that case, the uniform would need to be provided free of charge, or the employee would need to be reimbursed by the employer for the cost,” the department said.
One other point worth mentioning: Whenever employees are required to buy clothing or accessories for the job, their employer, by law, must reimburse them by the next pay period. If they don’t and the purchases take the employee’s wages below the $9-an-hour state minimum wage, that would violate labor law.
As to whether the store’s policy specifically violates labor law, the department said it would need to investigate to get more details. Your daughter can reach the department at 888-469-7365.
I would encourage your daughter to post a copy of this column in her workplace or send one to her boss anonymously. The employees shouldn’t be forced to buy something they can’t afford, and may not even like. If a business wants to turn its employees into walking billboards for its products, it should at least be willing to offer discounts and allow employees to shop around for cheaper alternatives. Otherwise, employees, especially those just starting out, are paying to work there. And that is no way for a young person to get ahead.
DEAR CARRIE: I was working as an independent contractor for a Canadian company in New York but was let go. Am I entitled to unemployment benefits? If so, what documents do I need in order to collect?
— 1099 and Out
DEAR 1099: If you were a bona fide independent contractor, you cannot collect unemployment benefits because you are not covered by labor laws. So it is important to verify what your status was. If you had your own business and decided how and when you did the work and with what resources, you were probably an independent contractor. But if none of that fits you, you may have been an employee. You should call the Labor Department’s Telephone Claims Center for more benefits information at 888-209-8124.