AASM (Ask A Salon Manager) posts are Q&A posts. To submit your question, contact me.

“Can a salon owner decide who my clients are? For example, if she doesn’t like someone, can she tell me they’re not welcome in the salon?”

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Whether or not a salon owner can dictate who is permitted to patronize the salon depends on whether you’re a renter or an employee, and whether their reason for refusing the client is discriminatory or not.

If you’re a renter, then you’re a commercial tenant operating your own independent business. In that arrangement, the salon owner is a landlord and cannot dictate how you conduct your business or with whom. Their job is to collect a check from you for your rent and ensure the roof isn’t falling down on top of you. That’s it.

If you’re an employee, the business owner can absolutely dictate to you–not just who you’re permitted to service as an employee of her business, but what products you use, what you wear, what you do, and how you do it. They have the right to refuse service to anyone at any time–as long as they’re not being discriminatory.

So, when does a salon owner cross the line from “right to refuse service” to “civil rights violation?” Whenever that refusal is based on a client’s race, color, religion, national origin, disability–and in many jurisdictions now (and hopefully soon on a federal level with the recently proposed Full Equality Act of 2015)–sexual orientation and gender identity. This law (The Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964) is a federal law, which means the entire United States is covered. It prohibits discrimination by privately owned “places of public accommodation.”

Discrimination aside, a salon owner may refuse service to anyone, as long as the reason for refusal isn’t arbitrary or restricted to one group of people. There must be a specific reason to refuse service, and that refusal must be consistent–the policy must apply to everyone.

Generally, business owners do not like to turn away customers. Money is money, regardless of whose wallet it’s coming from, but in salons you often see refusal of service for one of the following reasons:

1.) Disruptive: Guests who are too loud or boisterous are often asked not to return, since they disrupt the atmosphere for the other clients in the salon. It’s not unreasonable to require clients to respect the space by keeping their volume down.
2.) Under the Influence: Obviously, anyone under the influence doesn’t belong in the salon…for multiple reasons.
3.) Sexual Impropriety: Whether it’s dressing or behaving overtly sexual, or propositioning the employees for sex, this has to be our #1 reason to boot out a customer. If I had a nickle for every time I reprimand or dismiss a client for something of this nature, I’d have probably $0.65–that’s a lot of nickles. (Related side note: Is it really that difficult to wear underwear when you come to get a pedicure, ladies, especially when you’re wearing a SKIRT?!)
4.) Aggressive/Unfriendly/Disrespectful: Can a salon owner dismiss a client for being rude? You bet.
5.) Ineligible for Services: Any client who presents a disorder or condition that makes them ineligible for services legally must be dismissed. Responsible salon owners will never allow their employees to operate outside of their scope of practice.

As far as simply “not liking” a particular person (maybe a high school rival?), I’d say the owner needs to grow up and be an adult. Unless that client poses some kind of threat to her business, there’s no justifiable reason to refuse service.

So, there you have it. Have you ever had to dismiss a client? Tell us below in the comments!

7 COMMENTS

  1. So I was reading through this article to see if something that was happening in the salon I work at was legal but I didn’t find what I was looking for so my question is, Is it legal for my boss not to give me walkin-clients all day because she was mad I had to change my schedule for winter insuring I get home safely? I am not the first stylist she has done this to and she’s admitted she does this. Any info will help!

    • Unfortunately, it’s up to the salon owner who to distribute clients to. Fortunately, she’s required by federal law to pay you for your time, so if she’s not in compliance with the prevailing wage laws, she’s setting herself up for serious problems. It goes against her best interests to have employees in the salon who aren’t generating revenue, so I’m guessing she’s not in compliance. If I were you, I’d bring these laws to her attention and let her know that you expect to be paid regardless of whether there’s a client in your chair or not.

  2. I would like to discuss an ongoing situation here in Nashville TN, the newest home of “boutique barbershops” (also known as fake barbershops). First of all, they totally discriminate in hiring men. Second, if you have years of experience, even the experience of owning your own shop, you are discriminated against because you are “too old” (read: not hip).Some of these boutique shops require a “headshot”, but not “that much experience”. They advertise for “recent graduates” (meaning YOUNG) applicants.
    Several ads by these fake barbershops are on full display on our local Craigslist. If I had the money to hire a proven litigation atty. and one who specializes in discriminatory law, I would. If you are over 40 years old, male, and are a “barber”, not a “stylist”, you will not work in Nashville. Unless you do mainly Hispanic and/or African-American hair. End of story. If you don’t have multiple piercings, in your face tattoos, and your head shaved up to your hairline, you won’t find work in Nashville as a Barber. The ads all mention that you must be proficient in straight razor shaves, while 95% of all young to middle-age males in Nashville have full beards or some variation of facial hair. One ad for a local barbershop expressed exclusively, that they wanted “female barbers”. If the shoe were on the other foot, there would be a local outcry and lawsuits, and a Federal investigation on sex discrimination. Experience, upscale clientele, and high standards don’t matter here anymore. Ya just gotta be “hip”(young), use snap on attachments to your clipper work, no more freehanding skills needed anymore, etc. Age and sex discrimination is alive and well in this phony, hipster/poser town.
    And, as stated in many columns here, forget about being an “employee”, or commission over 60%, those days are long gone. Nashville is not the only city with this crap going on, it’s been going on for quite awhile nationwide, Just another “Dirty Little Secret” of the Hair Business.

    • Hi Floyd! 😀 I’ve never heard of boutique barbershops. They haven’t made it down here to Florida yet, but we see similar tacky concepts all the time. (Lingerie salons, for example.) It’s a travesty. I’ve also seen my fair share of discriminatory hiring practices from a management perspective. I’ve presented qualified, talented applicants to owners and had them shoot the applicant down based on their race, gender, or age. One owner told me, “Our clients won’t want a black girl doing their hair.” This professional came to the salon with fifteen years of experience, a full book of clients, and a standing position as HSN’s set stylist. It just blows my mind that people are willing to dismiss talent based on something so superficial and backwards.

  3. Hi, as a salon owner do I have the right to refuse “difficult” clients? More specifically clients who are not clear on what they want even though they come in for the same thing all the time. Thus going over the allocated time set for the specific service & leaving you mentally drained.

    • You have the right to refuse service to anyone, so long as those reasons aren’t based on race, handicap, gender, religion–or any other reason protected by federal anti-discrimination laws. And you should. My friend Jaime Schrabeck and I often tell students in our lectures that bad clients aren’t worth having. Here’s the replay of her free webinar version of that class: https://youtu.be/yIRZJTBH7as

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