As I was driving home last night, NPR played a clip from the 1947 folk song "16 Tons." Its a catchy tune about 1940’s coal mining. The chorus of the song has the coal miner asking St. Peter to delay his death because he owes his soul to the company store. Employers used to provide "company stores" for employees where they could purchase items (usually at inflated prices) from a store owned by the employer. Employees "paid" for their purchases through debts secured against their wages. Here is Tennessee Ernie Ford’s rendition of "16 Tons."
While there are few employers that maintain "company stores," many states have enacted laws that prohibit employers from requiring employees to purchase the employer’s products. Some employers have been sued because they maintained policies that require employees to buy and wear their brands while working –the modern equivalent of the "company store."
Texas has a law that prohibits employers from requiring, through coersion, employees to purchase items from the employer. The Texas Labor Code provides a modest monetary penalty for any person that requires or attempts to require an employee to purchase food, clothing or merchandise from a place or store. Despite the fact that this law has been in place since 1993, there are no Texas cases citing the section. This suggests that Texas employers are not requiring employees to purchase items from the employer or the statute’s lack of a civil remedy (i.e., a cause of action to sue for in court) means that these practices aren’t seeing the light of courthouse.
A copy of the Texas Labor Code provision is available here.