A few interesting questions were asked of OSHA last year on who pays for the personal protective equipment at a workplace. Specifically, can an employee be required to pay a deposit on the PPE as an incentive to return the PPE when and if he leaves the job? Can the deposit be more than the cost of the PPE itself? Can an employee buy his or her own PPE and then be reimbursed by his employer?
According to OSHA’s final rule “Employer Payment for Personal Protective Equipment”, published in 2007 (effective February 13, 2008, and implemented May 15, 2008), OSHA requires employers to pay for PPE, with certain specific exceptions. The rule does not require employers to provide for PPE if it was not required before.
If the company owns the PPE that an employee uses, and the employee leaves the company, the company may require the employee to return the PPE. The company is not prevented by the rule from retrieving the PPE if the employee does not return it, as long as no laws are broken in doing so. The company must make sure their employees understand that PPE must be returned at the end of their employment.
OSHA makes clear that the employer cannot charge an employee for wear and tear on PPE due to work conditions and work performed.
As for charging the employee deposits on PPE, the rule does not prevent the employer from doing so, but it cannot be done in a way that makes the employee end up paying the whole cost of the PPE. The rule makes clear that the employer must pay for PPE.
The rule also does not prevent an employee from using his or her own PPE at the workplace, provided that the PPE is adequate to protect the worker from the hazards. It is important to note that “ ‘[w]here employees provide their own protective equipment, the employer shall be responsible to assure its adequacy, including proper maintenance, and sanitation of such equipment’ (29 CFR § 1910.132(b)). The construction standards contain similar language in § 1926.95(b). These provisions ensure that all PPE used by employees has been evaluated and is adequate to protect the employee from hazards in the workplace.”
Some of the exempted items that employers do not have to pay for include steel-toe boots, prescription eye wear, and everyday work clothing.
You can read OSHA’s response to the questions here.