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Walmart workers unhappy about new 'dress code'

Some Walmart (WMT) employees are not happy about a new mandatory “dress code” or the fact that workers have to pay for clothes to comply with that dress code out of their own pockets.

The “new look” calls for employees to wear a navy blue or a white polo shirt and khaki or black pants or skirts. It also requires the return of the Walmart vest, but the company will pay for that.

The new dress code and the employee backlash were first reported by Gawker.

At issue is whether the new rules about what employees can wear amount to a “uniform” or a “dress code.” The U.S. Department of Labor says companies must pay for a "uniform," but not clothes required to comply with a "dress code."

Walmart unveils new dress code, asks employees to pay for their own work clothes
Walmart unveils new dress code, asks employees to pay for their own work clothes


So is it legal for Walmart to require its employees to pay for a polo shirt and pants of a certain color?

According to one legal expert, Walmart employees who are unhappy about having to pay up may have an uphill battle. Federal Advocacy Coordinator at the National Employment Law Project, Judy Conti, told The Guardian that what Walmart is doing is legal.

“When an employer selects clothing you could wear anywhere else, they are not required to pay for it,” Conti said. “Black or khaki pants – it doesn’t come more basic than that. White or navy blue shirt: now, maybe you don’t wear white or maybe you don’t wear navy, but I’ll bet you wear one of them.”

Heidi Moore of The Guardian tells Yahoo Finance she thinks Walmart is asking too much of employees who already make too little.

“It is pretty much an egregious issue… it’s a huge chunk of their take-home pay and Walmart employees have been complaining for years - and even staging protests and walk-outs – that they are not paid enough, that they’re not paid a living wage.”

Walmart says its average full-time hourly wage in the United States is $12.92. The company says employees are free to buy the clothes anywhere, however, Walmart also has extended an offer for employees to buy the clothes from Walmart for a 10% discount. If employees buy dress-code appropriate clothes (2 shirts and 2 pairs of pants) from the company's own website, that would add up to abour $48, after the company discount of 10%, which Moore says is "tiny" compared to other retailers' discounts.

"If you work at any other store, whether it’s Macy’s (M) or Club Monaco, Urban Outfitters, you get 50% discounts, sometimes 60% discounts, so it’s also pretty chintzy on that front,” she said.

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