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Can Your Employer Tell You How To Dress?

Wal-Mart is back in the headlines again. This time, the discount retail giant is making news over its new dress code policy, or "uniforms" as many are insisting is a more appropriate descriptor, that goes into effect on Monday, September 29.

According to the policy, workers will be required to wear a collared shirt in white or navy paired with either khaki or black pants. Each employee will be required to purchase his or her own compliant clothing; Wal-Mart will supply a royal blue vest to top off the look.

Many Wal-Mart employees across the country are upset about the new dress code, asserting that the retail corporation is fixing something that isn't broken, while at the same time putting a financial burden on its employees. 

According to Wal-Mart's own corporate financial fact sheet, it recorded sales over $470 billion for the fiscal year that ended in January 2014. In addition, the company made the 2014 Fortune 500 list of the largest companies in the world by revenue. The corporation also asserts that it pays its full time workers an average hourly wage of $12.92.

But, as of today, just under 16,000 people have signed an online petition requesting that the discount chain provide the uniforms to its employees rather than force them to purchase their own. While the financial burden to the corporation would be minimal in light of its massive revenues, the burden of complying with the dress code change would be severe for many of employees.

So, Can My Boss Tell Me What To Wear To Work In New Jersey?

In short, yes. Your employer can create a dress code or require employees to wear a uniform. However, that power is not unlimited.

In New Jersey, an employer must provide attire for its employees if the required dress code is not something that can otherwise be worn outside of work. An employer cannot take deductions from a worker's paycheck for the cost of a uniform. If the cost of a uniform takes away from the employee's disposable income such that it falls below minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference. As of January 2015, the minimum wage in New Jersey will be $8.38/hour.

Employment law is a complex area of law. If you have questions about an unfair practice at your work, including whether a uniform or dress code violates New Jersey or federal employee protections, you should speak with an experienced employment lawyer.

For more information on New Jersey uniform provisions, please see: NJ State Wage and Hour Laws and Regulations

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