A couple of years ago or so the female sales assistants of a high end luxury goods company in France complained that they had real costs involved in keeping up appearances – hair has to be immaculate, nails manicured, high heeled shoes need to be shiny, make up carefully applied, black smart dresses and tights or stockings worn every day, that sort of thing. Some even mused that décolleté enhancing bras were mandatory attire. They were on the same pay grade as the staff in the back offices who could work without having to look smart so didn’t have these costs. The direct sales staff received a sales bonus which the back office staff didn’t get but nevertheless felt that these real costs should be recognized – especially the costs of visits to the hairdressers.
We conducted a survey in France to see if these costs could be reimbursed without tax and social security costs. They couldn’t – the company wasn’t willing to adopt too aggressive a stance on the subject. A company could provide a uniform free of tax but the ladies didn’t want to wear a uniform.
Eventually we recommended that the sales staff be given a “Prime de Coiffure”. It was/is taxable and subject to tax and French social charges (including the 46%+ Employer social charges). The recommendation was accepted and of course it had to be paid too to the male staff although their costs were perhaps not as great as those of their female colleagues.