If a police or fire department provides its employees with free uniforms, the uniforms are considered a nontaxable working condition fringe benefit under the Internal Revenue Code. But what about casual clothing issued as uniforms?
Whether the costs of casual yet distinctively marked clothing issued to first responders are includable in wages is dealt with in Revenue Ruling 70-474. Under the new rule, when determining the answer, a federal, state or local government employee should ascertain whether the governmental employer:
1. Requires the police officers and firefighters to wear the clothing as a condition of their employment, and
2. Restricts the police officers and firefighters from wearing the clothing while off duty – even if it is casual, as in the case of a polo shirt bearing official insignia.
If both conditions are met, the federal, state and local government employees may treat the costs of the clothing issued to them as excluded from wages.
It seems obvious that state and local police officers’ and firefighters’ uniforms are required as a condition of employment and are not suitable for ordinary wear. It is important for citizens to be able to recognize an on-duty police officer or firefighter in the interest of public safety.
Police officers and firefighters are not allowed to wear their uniforms when off duty and are required to wear them when on. Therefore, they can deduct the cost of purchasing and maintaining these uniforms as an itemized deduction on their income tax returns.
Gross income does not include any fringe benefit that qualifies as a working condition fringe benefit under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), which applies to uniforms issued to police officers and firefighters. A working condition fringe benefit is any property provided to an employee, which – if paid for by the employee – would be allowed as a deduction under the IRC.
The revenue ruling states that first responders may take deductions for uniforms if they are:
1. Specifically required as a condition of employment, and
2. Not suitable for ordinary wear.
Whether clothing items are suitable for ordinary wear is a facts-and-circumstances test. Some case law sets forth an objective test that states “adaptability for personal or general use depends upon what is generally accepted for ordinary street wear.” In addition, nondistinctive clothing that an employer restricts an employee from wearing while off duty is not suitable for ordinary street wear.