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Walmart forces workers to buy something the company should provide

Walmart is stepping up their game by enacting a new dress code. While this seems like a savvy move for the world’s largest retailer, employees aren’t happy.

Walmart’s “new look” of collared navy or white shirts and khaki or black pants will be coming to a store near you, but who’s footing the bill? At first glance, it seems obvious that the mega-retailer would cover the expense of a new employee dress code as a job requirement. If Walmart wants to make the change, then Walmart should pay for it. Right?

Sadly, employees, some of whom are already struggling to make ends meet, are being asked to pay. A CBS News report quoted an employee, Richard Reynoso, who wrote the company’s human resources manager about the financial burden. The cost of three uniforms, he said, would take an additional $50 from the $800-$900 a month he makes as an overnight stocker.

The idea of wearing a uniform to work is nothing new. In fact, minimum-wage McDonald’s workers are provided with a uniform on their first shift at no charge. Workers are still responsible for cleaning and keeping track of personal uniforms; if an item is lost, the employee will have to pay for it to be replaced.

In comparison, Walmart’s request seems unreasonable. As Reynoso points out, he doesn’t have $50 laying around. Reynoso can’t afford to pay for this sudden policy change if he wants to make rent — though Walmart has made the grand gesture of offering employees an additional 10 percent discount on clothing. Yippee. Walmart will provide required vests for all workers.

Walmart competitor Target has been down this road before. A federal class-action lawsuit was filed by a California Target employee against the company claiming that making employees purchase their own uniforms of khaki pants, red shirts and black shoes was a violation of state law. The case was ultimately dismissed. Target employees still report supplying their own uniforms.

Many Walmart employees are already disgruntled about low wages. Piling on the cost of a new dress code policy doesn’t help. It is precisely this distinction in “dress code” that is causing the friction. The Department of Labor classifies uniforms and dress codes differently. If these new required outfits were called uniforms then Walmart would have to cover the cost.

Advocate group OUR Walmart estimates that Walmart could earn $78 million from dress code purchases, though employees are free to buy from any retailer. One thing is for sure — profiting off employees by refusing to pay for uniforms is a new low.

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