A training agreement is a contract between the owner of a salon and a worker, where the owner agrees to provide training (or to pay for training) for the worker. The terms of the agreement are generally written to ensure that the salon owner sees a return on her training investment. These contracts typically give a specified date or length of employment in order to “repay” the trainee’s debt to the owner. If this contract is broken for any reason, the employee is usually required to repay money to the owner.

For example, a clause of this nature might state something like, “Employee agrees to work for Chop Shopz Nail Studio for a period no less than two (2) years. If Employee is terminated or resigns from Chop Shopz for any reason, Employee will be required to reimburse the owner of Chop Shopz two thousand dollars ($2,000) within seven (7) business days.”

A lot of times, these contracts also contain binding arbitration clauses as well. Which, as we’ve discussed, in this post you should never, ever, EVER sign.

To clarify, business owners generally cannot charge their employees for standard employment training, which covers things like how to answer the phone, how to wipe down the mirrors, salon service protocols, or how to take inventory of backbar color. Those are business-specific operational procedures that business owners typically cannot charge for. It is considered the employer’s responsibility to provide instruction to those employees on how to perform those business-specific tasks to their standards.

Training agreements pertain to professional training and development, which covers things like advanced coloring techniques, new trend cuts, and other industry-specific skills that are not typically taught in schools or at basic levels. For this, salon owners absolutely can charge (and absolutely should), but they have to go about it the right way.

Stop writing your own contracts.

The problem with work agreements is that they’re never clearly-defined and many aren’t enforceable because the terms aren’t legal.

  • The “training fees” are usually over-inflated, arbitrary numbers, with no rhyme, reason, or practical method of justification.
  • Salon owners fail to properly document training time and many of them fail to provide the training at all, instead using their “trainees” as receptionists, assistants, or cleaning staff.
  • The wage deductions made to cover these “training expenses” often doesn’t take into account applicable minimum wage requirements, which then causes an even bigger issue for the salon owner. (Many states do not allow wage deductions of any kind that aren’t court ordered–and even those are strictly regulated.

As an alternative to training agreements, consider offering professional training services separately.

It is not illegal to require a staff member to have undergone advanced training as a prerequisite for employment. For example, I can require all job applicants to provide proof of e-file certification through Kupa to ensure the safety of my salon’s clients. It is reasonable to hold your job applicants to a higher standard. You have the right as well to require that potential employees complete advanced training prior to their employment and you have the right to charge for that specialized training. However, you do not have a right to hold anyone in debt bondage, and many of the self-written agreements I have seen skirt that very questionable line.

Owners, it is understandable that you want to ensure you see a return on that training investment. After all, you’ve donated your time, your skill, and your expertise–all of which have real monetary value. However, you need to consider the Thirteenth Amendment, which states, “Neither slavery nor servitude, except as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or anyplace subject to their jurisdiction.”

Contractually obligating any professional to remain under your employ for any period of time (or face legal or financial consequences for not doing so) may be considered unconstitutional. The Thirteenth Amendment prohibits the holding of a person in a condition of slavery, involuntary servitude, or debt bondage of any kind. The term “involuntary servitude” means a condition of servitude in which the victim is forced to work for the defendant by the use of threat of physical restraint, physical injury, or by the use or threat of coercion through law or the legal process.

When you threaten an employee with legal action and hefty fines for exiting employment, you are creating an atmosphere of compulsory service. 

Conditional servitude by which the servitor is compelled to labor against his will in liquidation of some debt or obligation, either real or pretended, is “debt-bondage.” Whenever a person requires another person to make a pledge of their labor or services as security for the repayment of a debt or other obligation, that pledge may violate that person’s civil rights.

Tread carefully, owners. Modern day slavery is not something you want to be found guilty of.

So, how can salon owners ensure that they receive fair compensation for their training expertise? Offer the training separately to potential new hires and charge for them accordingly. This also allows you to feel out a potential new hire before you agree to provide them with employment.

For example, as an educator, I provide training to licensees and students. They seek me out for the training and compensate me for it. They understand exactly what they’re receiving for their money and for the duration of that training period, they are essentially my customer. At the end of the course, I provide them with a detailed skill evaluation so they know where they’re excelling and where they may need improvement. I give them a certificate to show that they’ve put forth effort into furthering their skills and that I worked with them personally.

If I like them, I write them a letter of recommendation free of charge. If I really like them, I offer them a job.

I’ve seen them work and I’ve worked with them. By the end of their program, I know whether or not they’re reliable, how they respond to constructive criticism, how willing they are to accept direction, and how fast they learn new skills. I’ve been able to evaluate them over the course of their training and I was paid for it. 

This system benefits both me and the potential new hire. The trainee has something tangible to show for her time spent in advanced training. If I choose to hire the trainee, I do not have to worry about taking a loss if she is unhappy working at my salon. I don’t have to deal with taking her to small claims court to try and recoup the training costs. If she takes my employment opportunity, it will be at-will–and she’s already been trained in my methods. Everyone wins.

Set your professional training prices. Account for every hour spent in training and every penny spent on supplies and charge accordingly. If all goes well, offer the position. If it doesn’t, you are under no obligation to do so.

Tear up those work agreements once and for all.

They have no place in our business, especially when there are less messy alternatives to accomplish your purposes. In addition to being questionably legal at best, it is poor management. When you essentially turn your employees into indentured servants, morale suffers. Don’t do it. We’re better than that.

Industry professionals, when you sign a work agreement, you become a peon in a very literal way. A “peon” is a slave indebted to a master. Stop signing work agreements.

  • If an employer wants you to complete their professional training as prerequisite for employment, ask them to set a price for that training and pay for it up front. If the owner is legitimate and truly interested in turning you into a better professional (not using you as a servant for six months and charging you for the privilege), they will most likely prefer to have you pay for their expertise at once instead of indenturing you to them for two or more years.
  • Make sure that you are clear on what you will be getting for your money and get it all in writing. If the owner violates that contract by failing or refusing to deliver what was promised, you will have the means to sue them in civil court to recoup your losses.
  • If you are compensating someone for providing training, you are their employer during that training period. This means that you call the shots. They are on your dime. You are paying to be trained in advanced techniques; not fetch their color, wash their towels, answer their phones, or sweep up their hair. Do not be afraid to correct an trainer who forgets exactly what your role is when you’re paying them for training.

Be smart about the documents you’re writing and those you’re signing. Please hire attorneys for guidance. This “act first, worry about the consequences later” style isn’t benefiting any of you in this industry.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Amazing article. I worked in a salon for 6 months and they absolutely took advantage of me. Told me I would receive training, but I never had one class. I was forced to deep clean, do laundry, clean color bowls, fetch their coffee, massage their clients and sweep hair. And work for more than 8 hours a day. It was absolutely ridiculous. On top of that, they came up with a “new” contract that forced me to participate in their training program for 2 years, and if I quit before then, I owed them $15,000. Thats almost as much as I paid for hair school. So i got the heck OUT of there and never looked back!

  2. I just got “in trouble”at the school I teach at for advising a student to not sign a FIVE year contract with a new salon in town who ‘recruited’my student at a school sanctioned job fair(the contract was rife with misspellings,bizarre grammar and faux leagalise and was basically akin to slavery) .
    I keep your book in my classroom and refer to it often!

    • Thank you! I’m so sorry your school is apparently run by people who don’t understand your role as an educator, adviser, and leader to the students who trust both you and the institution itself. It’d be nice if they appreciated and shared your integrity.

  3. I am feeling silly because I made the mistake of signing one of these contracts and now I wish to leave. I told the owner I quit but now owe an extremely large sum of money. I told them I can’t pay but they keep threatening me. Do these contracts ever hold up in court?

  4. I made the mistake of signing one of these agreements but never received any training beyond the “business-specific operational procedures”. I am a licensed massage therapist and have received all my training outside of my employer. Also I don’t believe they actually kept records of the minimal standard procedures training either. Would they have a case against me to pay the $$ if I never received training? Wouldn’t the burden of proof of training fall on them to justify the fees?

    • I have no idea, honestly, but I assume so. I highly recommend talking to a lawyer about it. I’m certain states like California likely have legislation against this kind of thing, but I’m really not certain.

  5. I work for an Aveda salon in TN
    Aveda provides an education calendar of upcoming classes in your area and beyond. There are prices listed for each class.
    Our salon owner in particular does not give us a commission on retail sales. Instead she puts it into an “education fund”. I was taken with a group if stylists from the salon to a “team building” retreat of sorts. Our boss paid for EVERYTHING. BUT, before we could go we had to sign a contract staying if we left the salon within a year We had to pay back x amount of dollars. That I totally understand. However, since then I was signed up for a class by my boss (without asking me) for an advanced ed class and signed the same form with the same requirements. I thought this was to come out of the “education pot” we all contribute to with our retail sales. Thoughts?

    • Lol, you understand, but I certainly don’t understand…so, you earned the money by selling retail. She’s deciding how to spend it. If you leave the salon, you have to PAY BACK money that YOU earned for her? Her entire system is flawed. She needs to be doing this one of two ways:
      a.) she pays you retail commission and charges for classes
      b.) she keeps the retail commission and provides continuing education at no cost to you

      Either way, charging you or holding you hostage via contract is ridiculous. You guys earned the retail commission. That’s money she’d be putting into your checks if she wasn’t spending it on continuing education. By charging you when you quit the salon, she’s doubling her money.

  6. I REALLY need help now. My boss signed me up for a class on my day off without asking me if I would be able to attend. I was initially upset by this because my husband’s and I have been in the throws off trying to find a new home so my days off have been spent house hunting. I went ahead and signed the agreement to repay $150 if I left within a year of the class and was going to try my best to make it that day. Long story short, we were approved for an apartment and that Monday was move in day. This wasnow an issue on top of the fact that I only had a few days to come up with a live model, with a specific type, texture, and length of hair and a bunch of tools I was going to have to buy in order to take the class. I decided to take my day off to move instead of taking the class I was ill prepared for. The class was Monday, it is now Tuesday and I just received my paycheck stub that will be posted Friday. She already took the $150 out of my check for a class I never even attended! Also, she never even asked me if I could attend! I’m so upset. This is just the tip of the iceberg too. She’s also running groupons and only paying me $10 per groupon and the most expensive one is a full highlight, cut, deep conditioning treatment, and a style which takes me a few hours as a new stylist so basically, I’m making $3/hr on average. It’s just so frustrating and discouraging! Please tell me I’m not crazy for freeing taken advantage of. 🙁

    • YIKES! You’re not crazy for feeling taken advantage of, you’re crazy for staying! Dear god, get the hell out of that arrangement. I don’t know how much recourse you have with the $150, but there’s no reason you should continue taking losses there.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here