Ending the employment relationship can sometimes be difficult and often, those responsible for facilitating the termination are so relieved to have it all over that they don’t worry about pursuing the return of seemingly insignificant employer property, like used uniform items.
The return of uniform items at the end of employment, particularly those with company branding, can seem like quibbling over something small. However, the purpose of pursuing the return of such property is not necessarily to recycle clothes for a new employee, but to protect the employer’s brand and reputation.
Consider, for example, a situation where a former employee (or some unrelated third party in possession of the uniform) appears in an image or video online committing acts or promoting views that are inconsistent with the employer’s values. This type of negative publicity can be particularly damaging and is, for the most part, easily avoidable.
How can employers ensure that employee uniforms are returned at the end of the employment relationship?
- Maintain control over uniforms by keeping uniforms on the premises – for example, an employer may allocate uniform items to employees to wear during their shifts, provide appropriate change room facilities for employees to change into their uniform and provide a laundering service to ensure that uniforms are cleaned for employees. This type of arrangement will ensure that uniforms do not leave the employer’s premises. Employees should have no need to wear the uniforms outside of the workplace or remove them from the premises.
- Include a “return of employer property” clause in all employment contracts, including specific reference to the return of uniforms – not only does this approach set up an early expectation (at the commencement of employment) but it also gives the employer a contractual right to rely on when demanding the return of uniform items at a later date.
- Include the return of uniforms in a termination checklist – remembering which loose ends to tie up at the conclusion of the employment relationship can be challenging. Having a checklist to remind employers of what needs to be done can be helpful in this regard. Including the return of uniform items on this checklist will help to remind managers that returning any uniform items is an essential part of the termination process.
- Make a formal written request for the return of uniforms – if an employer forgets to ask an employee to return their uniform at the time of termination, they can follow up with a written request after employment has ended. This might take the form of an email or a letter to the employee’s last known address.
- Seek assistance from a legal advisor and/or the courts – where all direct attempts by an employer fail, they may consider consulting with their legal advisor about how the matter can be escalated. This may involve seeking orders from a court for the return of property or an injunction restraining the former employee from wearing the uniform items. Usually, this type of relief is only available in serious circumstances and can be a costly process.
In summary, employers should not forget that uniform items supplied to employees are the employer’s property and should be returned on termination of employment. The consequences for failing to seek the return of uniform items can be serious and can include damage to brand and reputation.
Shane Koelmeyer is a leading workplace relations lawyer and Director at Workplace Law. Workplace Law is a specialist law firm providing employers with legal advice, training and representation in all aspects of workplace relations, employment-related matters and WH&S.
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Information provided in this blog is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog. Where applicable, liability is limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.