What to Do When Your Boss is Withholding Wages

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.


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4 Responses

    1. 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.

  1. I just had a horrible experince of my 12 yeard in the hair industry. I started working on the grand opeing day at this new barbershop. I,m not afraid of grand openings I have done a few for other companies to get them up and running and never had a bad experience. Until this job. (I will say it was my fault to not interview them back after they said you got the job). But I do belive in a thing called trust and honesty. Anyways the first day does by starting at this job, I was waiting for my employee paper work but never was given any. I was told what I could wear what hours I had to work, and told me I never had to not take a break. I was very confused by all of this. Second day I started asking them questions what kind of employee am I? Do I need to fill out paper work. She turn to me softly under her voice said 1099. I had never been a 1099 worker before. So I did my reasearch, I couldnt belive what they were doing. Plus they were making us commision 50%. I average my wages out with taxes and I found out I woldnt even be making mim wage. They also left the first weekend on a trip and asked me to do laundy for towels because they pick them up at closing but since they werent there they told me to do it. I didnt want to look like a bad barber with no clean towels so I only took one load home with me. Later on they never said I would be paid for it or anything. Next day I asked them kindly if they would bring up my % because its not living pay. They told me no and I told them something has to change or else I can’t keep on working for them. They said they would get back to me once they are back from there trip with adding will you do the towels at my home for them, because they pick them up at closing but since they werent there they told me to do it. I didn’t want to look like a bad barber to my clients with no clean towels so I only took one load home with me. Later on they never said I would be paid for it or anything. Which was another red flag. Later on there was only 2 of us barbers working at the time and I told her what was going on. We got along great. Sometimes she would leave early no problem. When we hired another barber with experince after a few days I wanted to go home first and she said she was comfortable with me leaving. I soon get a call from the owner yelling at me saying I had no right to leave and it was unacceptable and all I knew I was still a “1099” worker. I told him hey I need to go but sorry for what he thought was wrong and that he felt that way. I knew then the couple who open this new barbershop didn’t know laws very well. I really wanted to give them a chance so I stuck it out. I kept on telling them ideas that were laws that they should look into. But they didnt seem to really care. A few days after the call we had a “meeting” after the work day with just with the first worker and I. Not the new barber. He said he wanted to clear the air (a day before I had told his partner that I didnt’t appericate that phone call and how I felt that I’m a hard worker and go by the rules, and that I feel that I feel like it’s unfair what’s going on and what did they decided on higher commison with 1099 or have us be employees and have their rules. (I felt like the Cinderella at this point). Anyways when he said he wanted to clear the air he stated that he did not yell at me on the phone and he just got start to the point with me. I told him I’m sorry but I don’t feel that way. I told them everything that I wrote above me how a lot of their buisness is unfair but understand that a lot is going on for them opening a new buisness that they never touch before. As in they never had experince in the hair industry. I told them I just want to move forward and not have that kind of thing happen again and if he has a problem call me and ask Hey how’s it going and try to hear my side of the story first before ranting at me. Which he had no right because at that point I was a 1099 worker. We moved forward in the conversation and they handed us W2 forms to make us employees. They said read about it and sign it when we are done. I went home and for sure read each sentence and word for word. They had a lot of wrongs in there. Saying that they can take money away from us if we do wrong and as a punishment. So I circled all the problems that I had a problem with. They didn’t show up the next day, but then the next day they showed up. No hi’s how are you he walk up Did you sign the papers yet? While cutting a clients hair. I told him I would get back to him on that. After I was done I was sweeping my hair up after the client and he asked me wher are the papers. I told him sorry I for got them at my house but I had a few questions about their policies. He looked at me and stromed off and took his partner to the coffee house next door. I felt really weird at that point and did self reflection to make sure I didn’t say anything rude or mean to make him feel this way. I said no to my self I’m just following the law and he has a problem with a worker knowing the laws and standing up for what is right and not being pushed around. Plus I know I am a good hard working barber and clients love me and I got along with co workers and had really good job experineces. Once, we were closing the shop they told the other barber could go and that they wanted to talk to me. At this point he wouldnt look at me or talk to me. She had to do all the talking. She and I had a little understanding and had a little bit of respect to each other because she did try hard to solve problems but she had to go with her parnter. But they told me that they have a problem with me and that I can’t queation their policy . I told them can I at least explan why I do. She heard me out about how I didnt like writing over my rights for them to withhold money as punishment and she said it would be if I stole to much tip or something like that. But I told her no that’s all the truth it states if I was on my phone that they can take money from my paycheck. But they just shot it down and said you know what we know what we are doing. I told them are you guys trying to make me quite? They said yes tonight can be your last night pack up your stuff. This was VERY unfair! I was just going by laws and my rights. They just wanted all the tax breaks at first, trying to find ways to take money and such. Was I in wrong in this??? I left with my head high and wouldn’t break eye contact and keep cool. I pack up my stuff and gave them my key and wish them nothing for sucess in their buiness. The guy still wouldn’t even look at me and I knew he couldnt say anything because we all knew he would problably just raise his voice at me.

    *** I know this was long but I never had this kind of experince before in the hair industry. Please let me know tios or let me know what was wrong in this case? Or was it really just me?

    1. Not only were you NOT wrong in this, you have the ability to file an SS-8 with the IRS–but start by filing for unemployment. The state will alert the IRS, most likely, moving things along a lot faster. Then, once you’re determined to have been an employee, you can report unlawful termination to the EEOC. I’m pissed on your behalf after reading this. If you can find an employee defense attorney to help you, I would highly recommend obtaining the assistance of one.

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