Wage Theft: What it is and what you can do about it.

Wage theft is the illegal withholding of wages or the denial of benefits that are rightfully owed to an employee. Wage theft is common in the United States. It can be achieved through various means: overtime, minimum wage violations, employee misclassification, illegal deductions in pay, working off the clock, not being paid at all.

These violations are alarmingly common in the salon. Have you had your wages stolen?

Answer these questions:

  1. Have you ever had the price of product deducted from your pay?
  2. Have you ever had pay deducted from your paycheck as punishment (for tardiness or service re-dos)?
  3. Have you ever been classified as an “independent contractor” but were forced to work the owner’s schedule, follow their service protocols, adhere to their dress code, and follow the guidelines set forth in their “employee manual?”
  4. Has the salon owner ever refused to pay you for services you’ve performed?
  5. Does your salon owner provide you with a detailed pay stub each pay period, outlining your service totals and your rate of pay for that period?

If so, you may have had your wages stolen.

Theft is theft.

Plain and simple. An employer who takes something that rightfully belonged to you has stolen from you. No weak justifications will change that fact. This post is here to teach you how you can prevent being a victim, and what you can do if you’ve already been a victim of wage theft. I am also going to demand that you actually follow through with enforcing the laws that protect your rights.

So how do you avoid becoming a victim of wage theft? Simple. Take responsibility for your pay.

  1. Track your income. Write down the totals for all of your service and product sales every day. You can easily type it into your phone. When payday rolls around, cross-check the amount with your own figures. (The Salon Employee Suitcase makes this process super easy.)
  2. Demand detailed wage statements from your owner. Often theft of wages is combined with failure to document what was paid by giving the employee an earnings statement which specifies the hours worked, the services performed, the rate of pay, and total amount of pay for the period. If your employer uses electronic booking, odds are pretty good that the system does all of that for them. Have your employer print out the statement. You want to see each service you performed, what the client paid, what the client tipped, what products you sold, and your rate of pay for both retail and services. You want to see how much went to FICA (that bastard). Every penny needs to be accounted for.
  3. Do not accept cash or personal check payments. Is your employer running a business? Then tell them to get their act together and do payroll like a grown up. You never accept payment in cash. Ever. The same applies to personal checks. You want a payroll check with a detailed pay stub. Nothing else will do.
  4. If you have been stolen from, hold the thief accountable. Would you let someone reach into your purse and pull out $20 or $50 and walk away with it? (If the answer to that is ‘yes,’ then you are beyond any help I can provide.) If you wouldn’t let someone take your cash, then why the hell would you let your boss steal your wages? If your owner has committed wage theft, TAKE ACTION. Click here to learn more about the process for filing a wage theft complaint.

Laws only work when you use them. They are there to protect you, but if you don’t take action, you will forever be a victim. Consult with a qualified employment law attorney or seek guidance from state or federal authorities.

employers who steal from their employees do not deserve to have employees.

Luckily, there is a huge movement in each state right now to stop wage theft. Laws are being passed that increase the penalties for committing this crime against American workers. If you’d like to get involved, you can do so at WageTheft.org.

Have you had your pay stolen by an opportunistic employer? Tell us in the comments!

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Tina Alberino
Tina Alberinohttps://thisuglybeautybusiness.com
Beauty industry survivalist, salon crisis interventionist, tactical verb-weapon specialist, and the leader of at least a hundred workplace revolutions, Tina Alberino is known as much for her extensive knowledge as for her sarcastic wit and mercilessly straightforward style. She’s the author of The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and Salon Ownership and Management: A Definitive Guide to the Professional Beauty Business. When she’s not writing, educating, or consulting, she can be found overthinking everything, identifying problems people didn’t know existed, and stubbornly working to change the things she cannot accept.

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  1. How can I prove to my boss charging me for product cost per service is illegal? I’m an employee I get minimum wage for all hours worked or 50%for 500-650$ of services sales or anything over that amount gets 55%. Which ever is higher i get so i punch in&out. I get 10% for retail sold and whatever tip a client leaves they leave. Each service has a different product cost I must pay which usually is 5% of the price of service. If what I keep reading on this site is true my boss is commotting wage theft correct? Please help I’ve emailed u b4 about this wjen my last job did this to me. I confronted them got fired, I can’t afford to loose my job again. I want to leave cuz this isn’t fair but I have 3kids I’m single and need this income plus the girls I work with are so nice beautiful salon great products for me to use nice clients &she’s been in business 30years. Im so sick of the bs tho. Mind u the product deductions aren’t shown on my check.nor do I get a print out of ANYTHING. no services i did what they where charged what tip they left nada! When a special is given which is all tje time whenever a client gets more then 1nail service dome at same time they get a discount. Or new clients 10$ off etc. Its comes off my check and I still pay the 5% product fee off original service. I get no benefits vacations etc. 2wks outta the month I work 44.5 hours and get no over time but sje doesn’t make me punch out 4lunch so I don’t care about that so.much. I’m a nail tech now for 16years and am good at my job. I always am taking educational courses and reading online education as well. I unfortunately moved a lot last 10 yrs so everytime I build a book I end up moving homes and subsequently jobs. I can’t seem to find the perfect place here in Harrisburg PA. HELP ME PLEASE. At least where is it wtitten proof tje things sjes doing is illegal?

  2. PA statutes are pretty clear about this. Here are some links for you:

    “What Can Be Deducted From My Paycheck?

    If you have borrowed money from a third party, you can give the employer written permission to deduct payments from your earnings. If your employer has loaned you funds, it can deduct the amount from your earnings as long as you have given written authorization. Of course, normal tax deductions must be made. You must give written authorization to your employer to make such non-tax related deductions. It is not valid to sign a “blanket” authorization at the time of hire to cover any future deductions. Further, as a rule, deductions cannot reduce your gross pay below minimum wage, and the deductions must be for the employee’s benefit.”
    -PA Dept of Labor & Industry: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=563209&mode=2#12

  3. Here is the actual statue, word for word. None of the deductions your employer are making are “for your benefit” and none of them fit within the specifically outlined allowable deductions included in the statute.

    Ҥ 9.1. Authorized deductions.
    The following deductions from wages are authorized for the convenience of employees in accordance with the provisions of section 3 of the Wage Payment and Collection Law (43 P. S. § 260.3).
    (1) Contributions to and recovery of overpayments under employee welfare and pension plans subject to the Federal Welfare and Pension Plans Disclosure Act (29 U.S.C.A. § 301 et seq.).
    (2) Contributions authorized in writing by employees or under a collective bargaining agreement to employee welfare and pension plans not subject to the Federal Welfare and Pension Plans Disclosure Act (29 U.S.C.A. § 301 et seq.). These include group insurance plans, hospitalization insurance, life insurance, provided such insurance policies are written by companies certified by the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, and group hospitalization and medical service programs offered by nonprofit hospitalization and medical service organizations and medical group plans.
    (3) Deductions authorized in writing for the recovery of overpayments to employee welfare and pension plans not subject to the Federal Welfare and Pension Plans Disclosure Act (29 U.S.C.A. § 301 et seq.).
    (4) Deductions authorized in writing by employees or under a collective bargaining agreement for payments into the following:
    (i) Company-operated thrift plans.
    (ii) Stock option or stock purchase plans to buy securities of the employing or an affiliated corporation at market price or less provided such securities are listed on a stock exchange or are marketable over the counter.
    (5) Deductions authorized in writing by employees for payment into employee personal savings accounts such as the following:
    (i) Payments to a credit union.
    (ii) Payments to a savings fund society, savings and loan, or building and loan association.
    (iii) Payments to the savings department of banks for Christmas, vacation or other savings funds.
    (iv) Payroll deductions for the purchase of United States Government bonds.
    (6) Contributions authorized in writing by the employee for charitable purposes such as the United Community Fund and similar organizations.
    (7) Contributions authorized in writing by the employee for local area development activities.
    (8) Deductions provided by law, including but not limited to deductions for Old Age and Survivors Insurance (Social Security taxes), withholding of Federal or local income or wage taxes or occupation privilege taxes and deductions based on court orders.
    (9) Labor organization dues, assessments and initiation fees, and such other labor organization charges as are authorized by law.
    (10) Deductions for repayment to the employer of bona fide loans provided the employee authorizes such deductions in writing either at the time the loan is given him or subsequent to such loan.
    (11) Deductions for purchases or replacements by the employee from the employer of goods, wares, merchandise, services, facilities, rent or similar items provided such deductions are authorized by the employee in writing or are authorized in a collective bargaining agreement.
    (12) Deductions for purchases by the employee for his convenience of goods, wares, merchandise, services, facilities, rent or similar items from third parties not owned, affiliated or controlled directly or indirectly by the employer if the employee authorizes such deductions in writing.
    (13) Such other deductions authorized in writing by employees as in the discretion of the Department is proper and in conformity with the intent and purpose of the Wage Payment and Collection Law (43 P. S. § § 260.1—260.12). “


  4. Hi Tina, I wrote you a while back about a wage theft claim against my former employer who was deducting between $500 & $600 per 2 week pay period illegally. She deducted nearly $25,000 over 2 years in numerous, intentionally deceitful, ways from my wages. She never even gave me my final paycheck check. I hired an employment law attorney to get my money back and stop this nasty soulless witch from doing this to anyone else. She is just ignoring the entire case hoping I will go broke fighting for what’s mine. I just learned there is a statute of limitation of 1 year on unauthorized deductions and she plans to drag this out to ‘break or my bank account, whichever comes first’. She is attempting to use loopholes to weasel out of all of this & continue this disgusting unethical behavior. If the law won’t help where do I go for help. She will NEVER stop.

    • Well, we could always break her legs, right? Lol, jk. I would talk to the attorney about filing an emergency motion for a hearing as soon as possible. I’m not sure how your state handles wage theft, but you may be able to press criminal charges. Definitely get on top of the attorney you’re working with and figure out what all of your options are. $25k isn’t chump change, that’s grand theft–a felony in most states.

  5. Hi I work at a salon where I am an employee.I had an emergency and left work without getting my credit card tips witch we take out at the end of our shift.When I came back to work I told the owner about it and showed her on the computer.We are required to have someone else tip us out and sign for them.Clearly that did not happen on this day.I was told that the register was not over so there was nothing I could do about it.The way our computer is set up we each have our own page and it says tips at the bottom so it is clear that it is owed to me also she has cameras on us and can see that I never tipped out that day.Is this legal?

  6. I’ve read recently several of your blog posts, having just found it. I do have a couple questions though relating to wage theft, as I’m not sure if it is considered something I should be getting paid for or not. The manager of my salon does the product cost thing before commission, which I’ve seen answered a million times, and I plan to already discuss this with her. She also has fundraiser things she does for the salon and requires us to be there, but we don’t receive pay, right along with classes required every other week where we usually have a model that we cut and color, and meetings once a month as well. (Currently I am assisting her so I haven’t had to deal with the product cost anyway, which is why I’ve waited to talk about it. So I make the minimum wage for the state I’m working in, which is $8.10 in Ohio.) I do not get any compensation for the meetings and when we do have models in class, if they tip me I get that, but nothing else. She does charge the models cost of product which they pay to her. She’s not really losing anything or gaining anything, and I appreciate being told things I can improve upon or things I’m excelling at, which is basically all that happens in class. Anyway I am just curious if she can go without paying us for the classes or meetings or fundraiser type things for that matter? There is a fundraiser coming up specifically where I will not be paid at all, because all of the money made is going to be donated, and she told us that our tips are to be donated too. Which I know her telling me I can’t have my tips is illegal as well. Thank you also for putting the posts up that you have on this blog. So far everything I have read has been a great help for me, since I have only been out of school for a year.

    • If she makes the classes, fundraisers, and meetings mandatory, she is required to pay you to attend. If I were her, I’d hold the meetings during normal business hours. I’d make the classes optional, but offer additional bonuses to the employees who have participated to incentivize the staff to make them a priority. I’d also make the fundraisers optional, but wouldn’t offer any benefit as the event would likely net you new clients. (Also, I would not let the tip theft slide.) Good luck!

  7. I was an independent contractor, the person on the lease was providing the credit card machine and I was charged a weekly rent which went up $40 a month every year. I was also charged an overhead charge of 10% per client. Is it legal for one to be charged overhead and rent?

    • That’s questionable. In most states, if you agree to the terms of the lease, the state refers to contract law. Most lack commercial landlord/tenant legislation entirely. Why would she penalize you for being successful? Was she supplying product and other amenities? Actually, that doesn’t even matter. She should have bundled those things up into a flat rental rate. What she’s doing might not be illegal, but it is bad business.

  8. Hey Tina, I left a comment a couples of days ago I don’t know if it got deleted.
    I’m commission based at my first salon, and I love my job and everyone I work with, but lately there’s been a few questionable things and situations. For every color service I do I’m asked to take out $10-30 depending on how much product I used. I also don’t get paid overtime when I get asked to stay past my shift or start earlier. I recently found out I was pregnant and I get tired faster than usual, I work a 9 hr shift on Saturdays and I was asked to work a 12 hr on a Saturday that im already booked for with color. I personally don’t feel comfortable putting that amount of pressure on my body, but I’m a little nervous to talk to my boss about it because there has been times when they guilt trip me into staying making me feel like I’m just being lazy and I don’t want to work. Is It Ok for them to take that money out of my services for color? And do i have a say in the amount of hours I work in 1 shift if I don’t get paid overtime?

    • It’s absolutely not okay for them to take that amount of money out of your paycheck. Here’s a post I wrote about wage deductions.

      They’re required to pay you overtime wages. That’s federal law and not something they can exempt them from. You can find more about this by following some of the links in this post, and on the Resources page.

  9. Hi there! I’ve tried to email you but it won’t go through for some reason… I’ve been following your blog for awhile now, and it would mean the world to me to get some input from you. PS. Your book is amazing,I’m lending it to a micro salon owner I know as soon as I finish.

  10. My husband is a Barber for a barbershop franchise. The owner just held a staff meeting and threatened to reduce each barbers commission if the receptionist had any more complaints. Is it legal for her to change a contract percentage? And if so, is that enough reason to break a non compete contract? Its in Missouri. Its for 1 year 7 miles in a small city. She pays his taxes.

    Also, he is being asked to teach daily. Another barber in the shop is supposed to do it. The owner paid for her teaching certification and the barber is currently training 3 crossover Cosmo\Barbers. My husband is being hindered from his job to teach unlicensed and unpaid. He is scheduled for 10 hour days with sometimes not a single break. He is trapped by this non compete thing.

    • Hi Aubrey!

      Owners who are in compliance with wage and tax classification laws are legally permitted to lower wages whenever they wish, so long as they announce the lower wages prior to any work being performed in that pay period. (She can’t lower the wages at the end of the pay period and compensate at that lower rate. The change has to be announced in advance of the first “clock-in” for that pay period.)

      Employees are also obligated to obey their employers or forfeit their position. (This is called “at-will” employment.) She can ask him to teach, work the reception desk, or even walk her dog if she wishes, so long as he’s being paid and his taxes are being covered. If she’s complying with prevailing wage laws, he technically is being compensated for the instruction as far as state and federal governments are concerned. (However, we both know that he’s making a fraction of what he could be making if he were working on clients. Unfortunately, there’s nothing to be done about that since the owner is only obligated to ensure he’s making at least the prevailing minimum wage for each hour he works.)

      The long work hours are an issue. He should be getting breaks, and he should be getting compensated for overtime. If he isn’t, you should speak with a labor authority in your area or an employee rights attorney.

      Whether or not the non-compete will stand up in court is something you’ll have to petition a judge to find out. Do not breach the contract. Instead, have a hearing to determine whether or not it’s enforceable based on the radius. The time limitation isn’t unreasonable, but seven miles is a big stretch. Typically, judges won’t enforce a non-compete that exceeds three miles in our industry.

  11. My daughter works at a Solon where the owner takes money out f their paycheck if a client is unhappy with their hair and she has to redo it. She “charges” the employees for her services as a senior stylist because her time isn’t free! Is this legal?

  12. I am a commissioned employee at a salon. My employer schedules meetings, trainings and classes on Monday’s when the salon is closed and is a scheduled non-working day…once a month it is a mandatory staff meeting…other trainings or classes we are also expected to attend on our non-working days…my question is, is she required to pay us for these meetings or trainings when they are scheduled on our days off?? If there is a law about this, where can I find it?

  13. Hi! First thank you for this amazing website, secondly, I work at a salon under 10-99 but the salon takes a percentage of my services, they have a front-desk running checking clients out. Included in the percentage taken from the service total is a “salon fee” and “product fee”. I have been reading up on your website, specifically the Know Your Rights. I have been at this salon for two years now and when first starting out I was under as w-2 then near the end of 2017 changed over without choice to 10-99. Have had to pull teeth to get a breakdown of whats being taken out of my paycheck, am not charged a renters fee, but their “justification” is working in the salon is a benefit because of the “weight the brand carries”, they make it seem as if it is a privilege to work there. Filing my taxes last year became extremely difficult and I started trying to educate myself since I had no idea about 10-99 and how it’s supposed to be. At this point, I’ve had it with the level of anxiety and stress this brings me. Multiple stylists have now left the salon and I’m feeling overwhelmed with the amount of research needed in order to be knowledgable on the issue. Again, Thank you for being such a badass and respectable and honest individual, you are incredible.

    • Thanks! I’m sure you’re aware by now, but you shouldn’t be classified as an independent contractor. If you want to learn everything you need to know the easy way, I made a class all about misclassification, wage theft, and what your rights are. You can take it here.

  14. Thank you for all of this information! I worked for my company for just over 5 years. When I started he paid me the hourly or commission deal. Then 1 year into it he switched me to only commission 40% and then offered me “managers comission”, which was 10% of every other employees sales IF they met their weekly “goal”. That only last about another year, then, without any explanation it just stopped. I was required to perform all the same tasks I did before. After another year passed I spoke up, he said, “hang in there” , “we have a lot of bill’s right now” , “we will take care of you”. And he brought my comission up to 50% and told me that is the “max” pay. That’s it. So.. I quit. When I quit he then accused me of stealing. Now, after reading all of this I realize he was the one stealing from me for 5 years. He always told us, “I have nothing to hide”, and always gave everyone the run around.

    • Ugh. I’m so sorry that happened to you. I really hate that the variable nature of compensation in our industry allows salon owners like your prior employer to create intentionally confusing and complicated pay structures that make it easy for them to exploit people.

  15. So I have been at my job for 3 years as a nail tech. I sometimes work past my scheduled hours however we do not clock in and out she pays us by counting our number of clients throughout the day so we dont get paid for over time. Every two weeks my check would be the exact same number and seemed as though my check was only worth a week. I was also promised comission on package sales which i never received. When i asked her about them she told me that comission comes in cash after your paycheck. No one that i work with has ever seen their comission. She is constantly making excuses for why my check is not accurate. If she does decide to pay me for missing money she seems to be double taxing it. Please tell me there is a way to get help through the board even though there is no electronic record of my hours since we rely on a written schedule.

    • The state board of barbering and cosmetology doesn’t oversee wage issues. You’ll need to contact someone at the Department of Labor (Wage and Hour Division) or your state labor board. They’ll be able to help you, for sure. It sounds like your employer is utilizing several very typical tactics to disguise wage theft.


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