By now, it’s no secret that many beauty professionals are subjected to serious labor exploitation at the hands of salon owners–some of whom are acting with intent, but most of whom are simply clueless. Instead of turning to internet groups for a bunch of useless advice from people who aren’t qualified to advise you, read this post. You’ll find no half-assed assumptions dressed up as “facts” here. Everything on this list comes with reputable links, neatly underlined for your convenience.
1.) Salon owners are generally required to comply with the FLSA.
This is the FLSA. In normal person language, it says, “If an employee’s commission does not equal or exceed the federal/state minimum wage (whichever is higher) for the hours they’ve worked in a two week pay period, the employer is responsible for making up the difference.”
The FLSA also requires employers to pay overtime wages unless they meet all three of these exemption conditions. (Under the “interstate commerce” rule, it’s damn near impossible to be considered exempt, so play it safe and assume that your salon–if it’s accepting payment via credit card, ordering or shipping product out of state, taking phone calls, and servicing clients who aren’t residents of your state–is non-exempt.)
Tips paid to service employees by customers may not be considered commissions for the purposes of the exemption. If the salon owner hasn’t ensured that their employees have been making at least minimum wage after each pay period, the employees are entitled to back pay. (Oh, and the owner is at risk for auditing, fines, penalties for tax and labor violations, and civil suits.)
2.) Tips belong to the service provider.
The FLSA prohibits any arrangement between the employer and the tipped employee whereby any part of the tip received becomes the property of the employer. For example, even where a tipped employee receives at least $7.25 per hour in wages directly from the employer, the employee may not be required to turn over his or her tips to the employer.
3.) Employers cannot withhold pay as punishment.
Wage withholding as punishment is expressly prohibited by federal and state laws. When and how often an employer is obligated to pay employees varies from state to state. Most 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 ridiculous excuses some salon owners try to use.
If your employer is illegally withholding your wages, click here to see what you can do about it.
4.) Salon owners cannot “fire” a booth renter.
5.) An “independent contractor” is self-employed. They are not employees.
Independent contractors do not work a schedule. They don’t adhere to a dress code. They don’t attend mandatory meetings. They don’t work for a salon owner at all–they work for themselves.
Employee misclassification and tax evasion are a big deal. Enormous settlements are the rule, and substantial judgments adverse to employers are typical.
6.) “Product fees” or “head charges” are questionably legal at best. (Messy. Don’t touch.)
Product is considered a “cost of doing business” expense–and businesses are expected to absorb those expenses. Office workers don’t pay for the office supplies they use to do their jobs since the supplies are required to perform the tasks they’re compensated for performing. In the same way, stylists in the majority of states can’t have the costs of color, hairspray, gel, nail polish, water, electricity, or reception services deducted from their wages.
A lot of owners remove the product fee prior to calculating commissions, which is generally fine as long as the employer is FLSA-compliant and the employee is aware of their pay rate prior to taking the position, but not all owners do this. Instead, they tell their employees that they’re making 50% of gross sales without mentioning that 10-12% is being directed to product or head fees. Some owners go a step further and pull the product cost out of the employee’s cut. Do not do this. This is wage theft territory. Don’t swim in those waters.
7.) Employers cannot charge an employee for a “redo.”
There are only a few situations in which the law considers wage deductions permissible–and in the majority of states, this isn’t one of them. Employers, if an employee fails to perform to your expectations, you can fire them, but deducting money from their wages for a mistake is legally perilous at best. (Again, in addition to federal laws protecting employees, there are also many state laws that do the same, most of which are stricter than those at the federal level.)
Yes, I agree with you. It sucks. If an employee doesn’t perform a job properly, resulting in an unhappy customer, why should you take the hit for it? Shouldn’t she have to be responsible for compensating the stylist that performs the redo service? I say yes. Laws say no. Not to mention that this method is ineffective, unethical, and inappropriate. It leads to unhappy employees who might work slower, do unacceptable work, and pass on that attitude to other employees.
Positive reinforcement is a more reliable tool than negative reinforcement.
8.) Employers are generally required by state laws to give employees breaks–actual breaks. They are required by federal law to compensate employees if they engage them to work during their break or meal periods.
During an employee’s mandated break period, they must not be engaged to work. That means a salon owner cannot require their receptionist to take an unpaid lunch break “while she covers the desk.” They can’t force their stylists to sit and wait for walk-ins while they eat in the back room. What employees do with their break time is their prerogative.
Salon owners cannot “engage or suffer an employee to wait” unless they are being compensated. Period.
9.) The consequences are severe.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), “any employer” who violates minimum wage or unpaid overtime compensation laws may be liable for both the shortfall and liquidated damage (double the damages).
The Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor conducts investigations of alleged FLSA violations. When, pursuant to such an investigation, the Department of Labor decides a company is not in compliance with FLSA, there are several ways employee back wages can be recovered:
- The Wage and Hour Division may supervise payment of back wages.
- The Secretary of Labor may bring suit for back wages and an equal amount as liquidated damages.
- An employee may file a private suit for back pay and an equal amount as liquidated damages, plus attorney’s fees and court costs.
- The Secretary of Labor may obtain an injunction to restrain any person from violating FLSA, including the unlawful withholding of proper minimum wage and overtime pay.
When it comes to recovery of back pay, there is a two-year statute of limitations, except in the case of a willful violation, where the statute of limitations is three years. When employers are found to willfully violate FLSA, they can also face criminal prosecution and fines up to $10,000. Upon a second conviction, employers could face imprisonment. In addition to all this, the IRS often joins forces with the DOL and local labor divisions. Employees may also sue the employer in civil court.
It’s time to quit being ignorant. Stop putting yourself at risk. Doing things legitimately is easier and more profitable.
Be different. Be better. Be safe.
Did you leave beauty school with more questions than answers?
Prepare yourself to enter the salon workforce with this crash course in employment rights, salon compensation, and much more. My courses, Know Your Rights: Foundations and Know Your Rights: Contracts, will teach you how to keep from being taken advantage of in the salon.