Workers at McDonald’s in New York Sue for Unpaid Time Maintaining Uniforms, Failure to Pay Minimum Wage Under the FLSA

The McDonald’s Corporation has been immensely profitable in part because of its emphasis on branding, making itself identifiable and its product predictable and familiar. One part of this branding strategy is a set of company policies that requires employees to wear specific uniforms and strictly controls how these uniforms are acquired, maintained, and worn at their more than 33,000 restaurants. Now, in a Complaint filed on March 13, 2014, a class of thousands of crew members from New York’s 34 McDonald’s restaurants are parties to a lawsuit alleging that the company has violated federal and state labor laws by requiring them to wear a uniform to work each day, which amounts to requiring them to spend hours washing their uniforms in preparation for each shift.

The Plaintiffs’ first cause of action in their complaint is that the company has committed straightforward violations of New York State Labor Law, which requires employers who require their employees to wear specific uniforms to either provide for the laundering of those uniforms or else compensate the employees at a specific rate for uniform maintenance. McDonalds allegedly required all employees to wear a specific uniform, did not provide for the laundering of those uniforms, and did not provide the legally-prescribed compensation for uniform maintenance–about $10.00 per week for workweeks longer than 30 hours.

Second, the Plaintiffs argue that, because McDonald’s crew members are paid at or just above the level of the minimum wage, currently $7.24 per hour, and are provided only one uniform as a matter of company policy, the burden of maintaining the uniform often has the net effect of bringing the workers’ rate of pay below the federal minimum wage. Thus, they argue, McDonald’s “has willfully and intentionally violated the minimum wage provisions of the FLSA by paying Plaintiffs for their paid, on-the-clock time at or near the federal minimum wage, but requiring or permitting them to work additional, unpaid hours off-the-clock, and thereby failing and refusing to pay them for all hours worked at the hourly wage compensation required pursuant to the FLSA, 20 U.S.C. §26.”

Finally, in their third cause of action the Plaintiffs claim that McDonald’s has, in the same manner, also effectively failed to pay its workers New York State’s required minimum wage, currently $8.00 per hour.

There are some exceptions to New York’s Uniform Maintenance Requirement; these are cases in which an employer can reasonably require employees to maintain their work uniforms themselves because i) no specific uniform is required, or ii) the required uniform is “wash and wear”–that is, it is made of “wash and wear” materials, requires no dry cleaning or special treatment, and can be washed with personal garments, or iii) supplies each employee with enough uniforms for a normal workweek, and/or iv) the employee volunteers to handle uniform maintenance him/herself, then they could be exempt. Courts are sometimes called upon to make judgment calls about what is reasonable for employers to require, but in this case McDonald’s is strict in requiring its employees to wear a specific uniform, provides each employee with only one uniform, and (by allegation) does not compensate them for uniform maintenance at all.

If you are an employee and you believe your employer has violated your rights under the FLSA, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.