Does an Employer Have to Pay for Prescription Safety Glasses?

Whether you have just started a new job or are taking on a new role within your company, there are certain formalities that you may need to complete. If your new role requires you to work in challenging or dangerous conditions, for example, your employer may require you to purchase protective eyewear.

This is a smart move. Working in a dangerous environment with flying sand, dust, debris or wind can seriously impede your eyesight. It can prevent you from seeing objects directly in front of you. Even if this occurs for only a moment, it can cause some serious safety concerns. Along with this, prescription safety glasses—especially if they are safety-approved by an organization like the American National Standards Institute (“ANSI”)—can stand up in the face of high impact. While they aren’t entirely shatterproof, they will hold up in some of the toughest scenarios.

Clearly, prescription safety glasses can be a vital tool for your new role. As you go to buy a pair of prescription safety glasses, however, you may encounter the question of how you are going to pay for these glasses. While paying out of pocket is always an option, you may be wondering whether your employer should (or perhaps has to) pay for your prescription glasses?

We will explore this question further in this article. However, the quick answer is not promising. While there are a few narrow exceptions, your employer, in all likelihood, will not be paying for your prescription safety glasses.

The Role of OSHA

To get started answering this question, we need to spend a few moments talking about one of the most referenced agencies in the United States Department of Labor. That agency is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, also known as “OSHA.” OSHA is a well-known agency for enforcing health and safety legislation in the workplace. It does this by developing standards that employers must follow. If they don’t follow these standards, employers may be subject to penalties like fines.

OSHA has established standards when it comes to personal protective equipment (“PPE”). PPE is defined as equipment that is worn to minimize exposure to hazards that can cause serious workplace injuries. The injuries can result from things like chemical, radiological, physical, electrical, mechanical, or other workplace hazards. Because of this, PPE can include equipment like gloves, earplugs, hard hats, coveralls, and certain types of glasses.

Employer Funding for Prescription Safety Glasses

Ultimately, under OSHA standards, employers may not be responsible for providing funding for prescription safety glasses.

Let’s start with the bad news. While employers must pay for their employees’ PPE to comply with their OSHA requirements, there are several payment exceptions under the OSHA rule. One of those exceptions centers on prescription safety glasses. According to OSHA, “employers are not required to pay for some PPE in certain circumstances” like “non-specialty prescription safety eyewear provided that the employer permits such items to be worn off the job site.” OSHA says that this exception is in place because this type of equipment is “very personal, is often used outside the workplace, and that it is taken by workers from job site to job site and employer to employer.” In this restriction on non-specialty prescription safety eyewear, OSHA is also including “regular” safety glasses that have prescription lenses.

While it may not be the best rule for you, the worker, you can see why OSHA implemented this exception. If this exception didn’t exist, employers would be reimbursing employees for prescription safety glasses that are extensively used outside the workplace. Even if the employee took a job at a competitor, the original employer would not receive a refund.

So instead of forcing employers to pay for their employees’ prescription safety glasses, OSHA cited a provision that allows employers to provide different types of eye protection. One example of this alternative protection includes goggles that fit over the wearer’s own prescription glasses. The general idea would be a half measure; essentially, the employer would meet the employee halfway and provide some added protection but not provide an entirely new pair of prescription safety glasses.

In all of this discussion, however, there is some potentially good news. The OSHA regulation, among other things, focuses on the fact that employer-paid prescription safety glasses would be overbroad since employees would wear these glasses both at work and at home. But what if the employer required that the prescription safety glasses remain on company property? There is evidence to suggest that this sort of arrangement would require the employer to pay for these new pairs of prescription safety glasses.

Obviously, the employer isn’t forced to adopt this policy. It would make the decision rather than having OSHA force the employer to purchase these glasses. But having said that, you can imagine a situation where an employer would want to implement this policy as an added benefit to its employees. In other words, these prescription safety glasses could be an additional perk to current and new employees, helping the employer attract new talent. While the glasses may not be removed from the workplace, they can make employees’ work more pleasant.

Along with this potential loophole, employers must pay for non-standard “specialty” items. For example, one of these items can be prescription eyeglass inserts for full-facepiece respirators. Employees would find it difficult to use this provision to escape the general exception for employer funding of prescription safety glasses. However, this provision does exist, and you may find it valuable depending on your employer and the nature of your work.

The bottom line? In all likelihood, your employer will not be paying for non-specialty prescription safety eyewear. Even if the exception within OSHA seems unfair, it is on the books. If you still feel like you have a case for employer funding of your prescription safety glasses, you may not want to stop here. You can complete some additional research or speak with an attorney specializing in labor law. As with any legal analysis, you or your attorney may find another loophole that you can leverage.

Moving Forward

While your employer may not be required to purchase your next pair of prescription safety glasses, it must ensure that you are sufficiently projected while you’re on the job. If you have prescription glasses, you may receive a pair of goggles that you can place above those glasses. While it may not be the most comfortable, your employer is likely fulfilling its obligations under OSHA.

Having said all of this, you always have the option of purchasing your own prescription safety glasses. These glasses will not only protect you while you are on the job, but they can provide sufficient protection throughout your day-to-day life. Whether you enjoy extreme sports or are a hobbyist that works on projects with lots of flying debris, prescription safety glasses can serve you well.

At Rx-Safety, we are proud of our extensive collection of prescription safety glasses. Whether you are looking for a pair of ANSI approved prescription safety glasses or prescription safety glasses that you can use when playing your favorite sport, we are happy to help. If you have any questions about our collection, don’t hesitate to click the “contact” tab above.

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