Wage withholding as punishment is expressly prohibited by federal  and state law.

When and how often an employer is obligated to pay employees varies from state to state. All states have strictly outlined payment requirements (see New York for example, which requires employers pay their employees at least bi-monthly and in recurring intervals such as every two weeks).

Wrongfully withholding salary from an employer can result in legal consequences for the employer, including: civil suits, investigation, and/or criminal violations. Wage withholding is permissible in certain limited situations in certain jurisdictions, but the laws vary and none of them permit an owner to retain a paycheck due to “disrespect” or “tardiness” or any of the other absurd excuses some salon owners try to use.

If your owner is illegally withholding your wages, read on to see what you can do about it.

1.) Quit.
No pay. No work. That’s all there is to that. If you haven’t left already, do so now. Why continue to labor for someone who isn’t compensating you or who is stealing from your wages? You have bills to pay, so my advice in these situations is to leave the exploitative employment arrangement and take a job anywhere you can find one–even if that means working outside of the industry temporarily.

2.) Gather your evidence.
Pay stubs, service tickets, employment contracts, emails, and texts–gather whatever you have that shows when you worked and what compensation you were promised. If you don’t have a contract, that’s fine. Your employer is still required by federal law to pay you at least the state or federal minimum wage (whichever is higher).

3.) Demand your unpaid wages in writing.
Before writing your letter, check your state resources to see if they have an official request form. Some states (like Colorado) already have a form for you to use. If your state doesn’t, edit the template below to suit your situation. Send it certified and keep a copy for yourself.


RE: Wage Claim for [INSERT YOUR NAME HERE].Dear [FORMER EMPLOYER’S NAME]:This letter is a formal demand for the payment of my unpaid wages pursuant to [INSERT YOUR STATE’S RELEVANT STATUTE HERE].My unpaid wages include work which was performed for [BUSINESS NAME HERE] between [STARTING DATE] and [END DATE]. I was employed as a [INSERT POSITION], and am owed [INSERT PERCENTAGE OF SERVICE COMMISSION] of my gross service sales and [INSERT PERCENTAGE OF RETAIL COMMISSION] of my gross retail sales for this pay period, as per our signed employment contract (see attached) [ATTACH EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT].

My ticket sales equal [INSERT GROSS SERVICE SALES HERE] and my retail sales equal [INSERT GROSS RETAIL SALES HERE]. This equates to [INSERT TOTAL OWED HERE]. Please send payment to me by [INSERT DATE] to the address provided below.

Please be advised that under [INSERT RELEVANT STATE STATUTE HERE], an employer is required to pay employees wages promptly. If earned wages are not paid within 24 hours after demand, the employer is liable to the employee for damages.

The statute reads in part:

If I have not received all the wages owed to me by the date above, I will be left with no choice but to bring this matter to conciliation court.


3.) Contact your state labor authorities.
If your state has resources available, take advantage of them. If you are the only employee with unpaid wages and you don’t have any evidence, it will be nearly impossible to support your claim. If other employees also haven’t been paid their full amount (or at all), get them on board so you can all get what you’re owed.

4.) If the owner doesn’t pay you, take them to task.
Don’t let it go. This is your money. You earned it. Do not let an employer steal your income. Should your state labor department fail you, consider other legal remedies, like small claims court.


    • Hi David! You need to talk to someone at your state’s labor agency (usually they’re called the Labor Department, Labor Commission, or the State Attorney handles it). If that fails, file a complaint with the federal Department of Labor, or consider retaining an employee rights attorney.


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