Uniforms, Meals, Coffee Breaks and Weekly Rest


Your new employer is insisting that you buy the company uniform, which costs a whopping $80! What’s more, he says that you are entitled to only 20 minutes for meal breaks and that your work schedule will consist of continuous 15-day cycles. You wonder whether all these demands are legal.

This article explains the legal rules on workplace issues such as uniforms, meals, coffee breaks, and weekly rest.

Before you read this article…

The rules explained below apply only to workers who meet the definition of employee under a law called an Act respecting labour standards.  

The article explains your minimum entitlement under the law. Your employer may give you more than the required minimum.

I work for minimum wage and my employer expects me to wear a specific outfit. Who has to pay for this clothing? 

Your employer. If you are working for minimum wage, the rule is that your employer has to supply any special clothing required. 

However, if you make more than minimum wage, your employer can deduct a certain amount from your salary to pay for the uniform. The amount deducted must not reduce your salary to an amount below minimum wage. Do you think your employer is deducting too much for your uniform? Call the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST or labour standards, pay equity and workplace health and safety board) to speak with a customer service agent. 

If you are an employee working for tips, to see if you earn more than the minimum wage you must add the tips you receive to your hourly wage. 

My employer expects me to wear a particular uniform. It has the name of the business written on it. Who pays for this?

The employer. When the clothing you wear to work identifies you as an employee of the business, the employer must provide it for free, no matter your salary is. 

The athletic centre where I work also has a sports equipment boutique. My employer expects me to wear running shoes that they sell. Do I have to buy these shoes?

No. Employers cannot force you to buy the clothing or accessories that they sell. Employers who demand that employees wear clothing from their stores must supply it for free.

I work in a coffee shop. When I break coffee mugs, my employer deducts the cost of the mugs from my pay. Is this legal? 

No. Your employer cannot demand any payment to cover what are the costs of doing business. But be careful! You still have to act responsibly. If you handle money or fragile objects and you are careless, your employer can hold you responsible for any losses. 

Can my employer make deductions from my salary for the upkeep of my uniform? 

If you earn the minimum wage, your employer cannot make any deductions from your salary for the upkeep of your uniform.

If you earn more than the minimum wage, your employer can deduct these deductions, but the deductions cannot bring your salary lower than the minimum wage. 

Can my employer refuse to give me a coffee break? 

Yes. The law does not oblige employers to give coffee breaks. But employers who give one must pay employees for this time. An employer can decide the length of a coffee break. 

Can my employer restrict my meal break to only 15 minutes? 

No. After five hours in a row of work, you are entitled to a meal break of at least 30 minutes. Your employer does not have to pay you for the meal break. 

At meal time, I never have time to eat because I am still responsible for answering the phone. But my employer still deducts a 30-minute meal break from my pay. Is this legal? 

Meal breaks are generally unpaid. However, your employer must pay you for this time if you have to stay at your work station. 

For a full month, I have been working seven days a week. My employer refuses to give me a day off, and says I might lose my job if I take one. Is this legal?

No. In most employment situations, you are entitled to a minimum weekly rest of 32 consecutive hours. However, a government order or union contract might allow the employer to stagger work hours differently.

In the case of agricultural workers, the rest period can be moved to the next week, but only if the worker agrees. 

The CNESST can also authorize employers to stagger their work hours on a basis other than weekly. For example, some companies in the James Bay area require their employees to work 14 consecutive days, after which they are entitled to a full week of rest.