A group of restaurant workers of various ethnicities and genders stand in a group and smile at the camera. They are all wearing variations on a uniform of a white dress shirt and black pants, with some people also wearing a black bow tie and black vest. The only exception is a bearded chef in the back, who wears a white chef's jacket and hat.
Uniforms provide cohesion to a team while also allowing customers to recognize staff members. — Getty Images/AndreyPopov

While not all businesses require uniforms, companies with customer-facing roles often choose to implement them. Uniforms can make a group of employees look like a true team, build brand consistency and convey trust and reliability to customers. Here’s what employers need to know if they are considering implementing a uniform policy for their staff.

What is a uniform?

A uniform refers to specific clothing items that must be worn in the workplace. Uniform clothing is commonly branded with the organization’s name or logo, thus designating the person wearing it as an employee of that specific company. Employers will typically cover or reimburse uniform purchases.

Uniforms are distinct from dress codes. While companies with dress codes will provide guidelines on the types of clothing items employees must wear on the job, they do not mandate specific items or brands. Employers with dress codes are also not required to reimburse employees for their purchases.

[Read more: Building a Brand from Scratch? Start With These Tips]

When to require a uniform

Uniforms are commonly implemented in the service industry, as well as certain child care and public service roles. However, uniforms are not limited to these sectors and can be implemented in many primarily customer-facing roles.

“A company will typically require employees to wear uniforms if they find it useful for roles that require workers to interact with customers,” explained Michael Knight, co-founder of Incorporation Insight. “Uniforms inform the customer of who we are, keep us looking presentable and in certain industries, keep us safe from harm.”

In addition to their practical benefits, employee uniforms can also leave a positive impression on your clients. Uniforms tend to look polished and professional, signaling to customers that they can trust your employees to offer a positive experience.

Regardless of industry or role, uniforms can also be implemented to boost company and team morale.

“Uniforms have the potential to create feelings of belonging and unite team members together for company pride,” said Knight.

[Read more: 6 Tools to Build a Loyal and Excited Customer Base]

Uniforms inform the customer of who we are, keep us looking presentable and in certain industries, keep us safe from harm.

Michael Knight, co-founder of Incorporation Insight

Benefits of requiring employee uniform

Here are just some of the ways an employee uniform can benefit your business:

  • It increases customer trust. Uniforms not only help customers distinguish between employees and other shoppers, but they also help build trust between customers and your staff.
  • It creates brand awareness. Consistent company visuals that extend to your team’s uniforms help others understand your brand — something that can help you stand out in a saturated market.
  • It eliminates many dress code questions. When all employees are required to wear the same thing, there are fewer gray-area questions about what is “appropriate” workplace attire and whether a dress code has been violated.

Things to consider when choosing or designing uniforms

If you’ve decided to implement an employee uniform requirement, keep the following considerations in mind for a successful program.

Brand consistency

Uniforms are meant to convey your brand to customers, thus building familiarity and trust. That’s why it’s crucial to ensure that your company uniforms are consistent with that brand. Maintain the same color palette, logos and fonts across both uniforms and other marketing materials to avoid any confusion.

Expenses and employee feedback

Since your employees will be the ones wearing the uniforms, involving them in the decision process will likely increase their satisfaction and compliance. Ask them for their input on design and utility, including sizing and materials. Once you’ve developed a prototype design, have team members trial the uniforms and provide their honest feedback, then incorporate that feedback into future iterations.

You’ll also want to keep in mind the expenses associated with uniforms. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers are technically allowed to require employees to pay for uniforms out of pocket as long as that cost does not reduce an employee’s pay below federal minimum wage or cut into required overtime compensation. However, most employers do cover their workers’ uniform costs as a business expense.

Attire policy

Once you’ve found the right company uniform, Knight recommends writing down your company’s attire policy and sharing it with the team. This will keep all employees on the same page and ensure a professional, streamlined look year-round. Be as specific as possible in your policy, accounting for both business-specific and environmental needs. For example, allowing leggings to be worn under skirts in the cold winter months — and intentionally including such a specification in your policy — can keep your team comfortable while still adhering to guidelines.

[Read more: How Do I Write an Employment Contract?]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published September 14, 2021