Salon employees are often required by their employers into participating in promotions that net them nothing. An example of this is the newly hired massage therapist who is required by the salon owner to perform complimentary ten minute chair massages to new clients to “build her clientele.”
I’m not even going to get into what a terrible business idea it is to offer free services except to say that salon owners devalue their business and the services of their staff when they offer anything for free. Free services attract deal-seekers (your typical Groupon-type clients). These clients are seldom ever loyal and will almost never be willing to pay full price for those services under normal circumstances. It’s a bad business decision and an amateur one that shows a clear lack of foresight or financial prowess–and a dangerous abundance of foolish optimism.
The only situation in which it would be legally permissible for a salon owner to ask a professional to work without compensation is if:
a.) they require applicants to perform a technical service during an employment evaluation, or
b.) the employees volunteer to provide services for a charitable event.
The owner cannot be getting any kind of compensation for the service from the person you are performing the service for.
In these situation, the employer may ask, they may not demand or require.
If a company “suffers or permits” a person to work, they must pay that person at least the prevailing minimum wage.
Not only will employers who require commission-based employees to work for free likely end up violating federal wage laws, they’ll very likely be violating state laws as well.
Salon professionals, please stop asking, “Is this legal?”
Instead, ask yourself, “Is this fair, appropriate, or acceptable?” If the answer you come up with is no, ask yourself why. List it, think of suitable alternatives, schedule a meeting, then present your argument and your solutions to the salon owner. Stop accepting bullshit behaviors and complaining about them after-the-fact.
Get better at saying no.
If you’re a “commission-only” professional and you want to offer complementary services to build your book or gain proficiency in a technique that you’re still mastering, that is a decision that you need to make–not one that anyone should be forcing on you (at least not without compensating you appropriately).