“What are salon professionals owed in terms of service or retail commissions? What commission are we entitled to by law? How about benefits?”

Unless you have a contract that specifies otherwise, you are not “entitled to” any commission “by law.”

Whether you get commission at all is entirely at the owner’s discretion. They can decide if you get it, whether the commission is based on gross or net sales, and the percentage you receive. Unless you have a contract, they can usually change that amount at will so long as they notify you of the change prior to the beginning of the pay period in which the change will take effect.

If you’re a properly classified employee (without a contract that specifies otherwise), as long as your pay at the end of a pay period equals or exceeds what you would have made at the prevailing wage for the hours worked, the employer is in compliance with prevailing wage laws and can do as they please with regards to commission bonuses.

It is the employer’s right to set the wages of their workers. It’s your right as a free citizen to accept those wages or leave in search of better compensation.

The same concept applies to retail sales in the salon. Some employers don’t give retail commission at all and some give lower service commissions and higher retail commissions to encourage their staff to sell more product. How the employer handles retail commissions is up to them. It’s their business.

Like commission, what benefits to offer–if any–is at the employer’s discretion. The federal government does not regulate how most privately owned businesses are operated with regards to benefits, aside from setting minimum standards–some states and cities do, however, so you’ll have to check your local statutes.

Don’t confuse “benefits” with “rights.”

Laws exist to protect employees from mistreatment (misclassification, abuse, wrongful termination, discrimination, etc.) and to prevent you from being fired during a crisis (the Family and Medical Leave Act) or military deployment (USERRA), but it’s rare to find laws requiring employers to give their employees benefits like paid vacations or free continuing education.

Many salons don’t offer any kind of benefits.
No health. No dental. No PTO.
(That’s right. The school recruiter lied to you. Don’t act all surprised.)

If you want those kinds of benefits you can attempt to negotiate for them with your employer but generally, the best place to find benefits is at corporate salons that have the resources to offer them. (I’ll be frank: many privately owned salons are poorly managed, if managed at all.)

In my opinion, if you’ve found an employer who knows what they’re doing and adheres to federal labor and tax laws, you’re doing pretty well for yourself. If you’ve found an employer who does things right and gives you vacation and sick days, you’ve found a unicorn. The unfortunate truth is that benefits in this industry are hard to come by–for now, anyways.


To learn more about your rights as an employee in the beauty industry and how to ensure you’re getting paid what you’re owed, download The Salon Employee Suitcase.

Salon compensation systems can get a bit confusing. Nothing is more important than knowing your rights and tracking your income to ensure you’re being paid every penny of what you’re owed for the work that you do. The Salon Employee Suitcase makes income tracking simple, no matter how complicated your employer’s compensation structure is. The current version includes the following valuable resources:

  • The Income Tracker Spreadsheet for Commission-Based Salon Professionals: a 4 page spreadsheet for tracking your hours, service sales, retail sales, tips, and expenses. It allows you to account for credit card fees on tips and backbar charges on a flat percentage basis, an individual percentage basis, or a flat dollar amount basis. At the end of each pay period, The Income Tracker automatically determines whether your commissions exceeded your prevailing wage/overtime pay or not, and tells you exactly what your gross wages line should look like on your pay stub. Each sheet is designed to be printer-friendly, so you can save your sheets from each pay period.
  • A 7-page guide to the Income Tracker Spreadsheet that not only walks you through the process of using the spreadsheet, but also explains the laws in terms you can understand. Unsure about whether or not your employer is legally deducting credit card fees or backbar charges? You won’t be after you read this guide.
  • A 7-page Wage Theft Action Plan with letter templates—an extremely useful resource I hope you never have to use. The Wage Theft Action Plan explains wage theft, tells you how to find the laws relevant to your area, and provides 4 Wage Discrepancy Letter templates for every common wage theft scenario that takes place in salons, along with an Action Plan that will walk you through the process of filing a wage complaint against an employer who refuses to pay back the wages they stole from you.
  • A bonus 12-page article about sexual harassment in the workplace, including scripts for confronting clients, coworkers, and employers, and information about your legal rights when faced with sexual harassment in the salon.
  • $14.99Add to cart

Even the most diligent and organized salon owners make payroll mistakes. (If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.) Get The Salon Employee Suitcase and take charge of your own income!

After clicking the Buy Now button, you’ll be directed to Paypal. Once your payment is complete, you can expect two email receipts—one from Paypal confirming your payment, and one from me with a unique download link and instructions for opening the zipped folder. This unique link will eventually expire and spam filters are very aggressive, so if you don’t receive your receipt with your download link at all, don’t sweat it! Just click the My Account button in the menu bar. You’ll be able to access your downloadable files from there whenever you like.

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