How to Approach Your Salon Owner to Discuss Fair Employment Practices

Addressing concerns about fair labor and wage practices with salon employers. A a crucial resource for those seeking to foster a fair and transparent workplace in the beauty industry.

No matter what reason you have for approaching your salon owner about making changes, you need to handle the issue with sensitivity, professionalism, understanding, patience, and confidence. When all is said and done, you know your boss better than I do. All salon owners are very different and will respond differently. Ultimately, you will know how best to approach them and what reaction you’re likely to receive. This post will serve as a general guideline to help you prepare for that meeting. Use your own discretion during yours.

Compile your evidence and plan out your discussion.

Make sure you fully understand every relevant statute you plan on quoting. Have them listed and the appropriate website for each of them organized so that the owner can check them herself.

When I say, “plan out your discussion,” I do not mean “plan your attack.”

This is not an attack. Flesh out your reasoning for approaching the owner about the issues you’re bringing up and prepare to defend those reasons with supporting evidence if you are questioned. For example, if the salon owner has you classified as an independent contractor but you want to be an employee, show her your projected income after self-employment taxes. Show her why the current system doesn’t benefit you with cold, hard numbers. You can then supplement this reasoning with the relevant statutes regarding the independent contractor model and explain why it typically does not apply to our industry unless the contractor is a full-time freelancer working for multiple businesses.

Don’t get caught off guard. Gather more knowledge than you think you’ll need and the supporting documentation to back it up. With knowledge comes confidence.

Arrange for a private meeting.

The time to bring these issues up is not during a staff meeting. If your boss is violating federal tax and/or labor laws, the odds are pretty good that she didn’t have a clue. Even if it’s just her policies you don’t agree with, do not put her on blast in front of her entire staff. That is disrespectful, cruel, and unprofessional. I’m pretty laid back, but if someone did that to me they’d be packing their tools up and leaving shortly after. No business owner in their right mind would put up with that treatment. You certainly wouldn’t stick around if they put you on the spot like that, right? So don’t do it to them.

You never want to make the salon owner feel cornered.

Even if you are a renter, professional courtesy is expected and necessary.

I don’t care if your salon owner is the most unprofessional bitch on the planet, be the bigger person. Always.

Show the salon owner what you’ve found and always assume that their errors were exactly that–errors.

Again, this is not an attack and you should never make the salon owner feel as if you’re attacking them or berating them. You are educating the owner. You are sharing knowledge. This information may be entirely new to them. Operate under that assumption and keep the dialogue civil.

Your attitude needs to be, “This is what I’ve learned and I thought it was really important to share with you. I’d really like to see some changes made because ____. I have some ideas about how we can do this together.”

Show appreciation.

Point out the things you love about the place you work, how much you appreciate everything the owner does, and make it clear that you just want to ensure the salon is in compliance. Have strategy solutions prepared.

This meeting shouldn’t be all negative.

You need to tell the salon owner the things she’s doing right–the things that are motivating you to show up every day. You could have abandoned her ship and left her to sink or swim on her own. Instead, you want to work with her and help her business thrive. That shows integrity and loyalty–two qualities that aren’t easy to find in this business.

Present solutions.

Don’t just dump a bunch of information in the owner’s lap and expect them to know what to do from there. I don’t know about other business owners, but I absolutely hate people who bring up complaints but have no corrective solutions in mind.

If you have spent time and energy coming up with a legitimate complaint, you better have spent some time and energy coming up with at least two ways to rectify it.

…otherwise you have wasted my time and aggravated me with your laziness. (I don’t know about your boss, but I’m not a nice person when I’m displeased.)

Even if the owner doesn’t want your help, you should at least offer. If you have time to research what she’s doing wrong, you have time to research how to make it right. Taking that extra step displays initiative, motivation, great teamwork, and a positive attitude. It shows that you’re invested in the business. Any business owner who doesn’t appreciate a staff member who offers solutions or constructive criticism needs to reevaluate themselves immediately.

Call bullshit when necessary.

If the salon owner claims her improper business practices were advised by or endorsed by an attorney or accountant, ask for that professional’s contact information. Do not be surprised if the owner gets defensive or argumentative. You’ll usually see that with salon owners who knew damn well they were doing something illegal.

Clueless owners and intentionally abusive owners seem to exist in nearly equal number.

A clueless owner with good intentions is more likely to respond with wide eyes, a dropped jaw, and the common panic, “Oh my god! I had no idea! What do I do?!” An intentionally exploitative owner is more likely to get hostile, defensive, and sometimes even verbally abusive. You’ll see narrowed eyes, pursed lips, crossed arms, and hear the extremely common, “My lawyer said this was just fine and I’m going to do what he suggests. Are you calling my attorney a liar?” or “My accountant says it’s legal.” Intentionally exploitative owners have no desire to correct their practices and won’t even bother to look at the information you’ve brought to present to them. Those are big red flags.

For the record, no attorney is going to endorse a contract or practice that violates federal or state laws. If the salon owner claims her clearly illegal business practice was advised by her attorney, she is very likely lying to your face.

If the owner tries to intimidate you or throw you off your game by putting words into her “attorney’s” mouth, immediately ask for that attorney’s contact information so you can verify that claim. If she hands you a name and number, Google it to make sure the “attorney” is actually an attorney. (No lie, I have heard of owners having their clients or friends pose as legal counsel to intimidate staff members into accepting their bullshit employment conditions. That level of insanity should not surprise you. If your owner is desperate enough to knowingly break the law, the odds are pretty good that she’s willing to recruit a friend to pose as a legal representative to cover her ass.)

If you plan on giving an ultimatum, be prepared to follow through.

Expect the best but prepare for the worst. Think about what you will do if the salon owner refuses to address your concerns. If these are issues with completely legal business policies that you don’t agree with to the point that you’re willing to leave, have your two week notice prepared and a new salon ready to take you in. If these are issues pertaining to illegal labor practices that you plan to take action on if the owner refuses to rectify them, explain to her that you will be reporting it.

If you speak it with your mouth, be prepared to act on it. If you’re just going to make empty threats, save your breath.

This is very important. Prepare for the owner to turn hostile. Prepare to be terminated. Be ready to follow through if your issues aren’t addressed.

Don’t embarrass yourself or your profession. Walk your talk.

The only way we can change things is if we each do our part. Your part may be as small as filing an SS-8 with the IRS and having an exploitative salon owner audited so they can never do to others what they’ve done to you.

I often get asked why we don’t have a union. The truth is, a union would be great. It really would, but we don’t need one. We can do this together. We just have to make a decision as a united force that we will not accept these employment practices any longer.

This post was originally published in 2010, when salons with ethical employment practices were nonexistent. Now, salons across the country are using their ethical employment practices as a selling point to attract talented, savvy professionals and socially conscious clients. It took seven years to see the change happen, but now salon owners are left with no choice but to change the way they do business and the way they treat their professionals.

We’ve made a modest degree of progress and things are continuing to change, but the industry isn’t perfect yet. We need to continue to hold employers accountable for employee abuses and labor law violations. We need to continue to hold salon landlords accountable for trampling on the rights of their renters. We need to continue educating incoming professionals, salon owners, and our coworkers, so they can do their part also.

Letting business owners commit crimes against us and walk away from it without penalty is like saying that their behavior is acceptable.

It isn’t. We’re better than that.

Keep up the great work. Maybe by 2020, ethical employment practices will become the industry standard.

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14 Responses

  1. I appreciate everything I have read so far on many different topics you write about. On this particular topic, reverse the scenario…what if you are an owner who has become educated and enlightened to the error of her ways? You realize that you are not compliant and want to become compliant. How do you present this to those who work under your roof? Those techs who have no interest in becoming employees OR renters and feel that the industry standard is to be independent contractors, no if, ands or buts? How do you educate them as to the error of their ways? And if they do not choose one of the 2 LEGAL options, how do you remove them from under your roof? Can they be removed?

    1. This is a FANTASTIC question, and one I usually only get asked in my workshops for salon owners–I’m glad to see it here! I need to write an entire post on this (and I will very soon), but for now, here’s the short answer:
      1.) If you’re non-compliant, consult with a tax attorney about whether or not the IRS’s VCSP (Voluntary Classification Settlement Program) will benefit your situation. (Most of the tax attorneys that my clients work with do advise it.)
      2.) Create a new compensation system and present it during a meeting, making sure you clarify the very real, specific benefits they’ll enjoy under a legal compensation system. Make it very clear that you’re not willing to continue operating illegally or to continue facilitating their ability to evade employment taxes of their own.
      3.) Your roof, your rules. If they aren’t willing to be reasonable and accept the new terms, they can hit the bricks. I recommend separating amicably if possible. Offer to write them a letter of recommendation should they chose to separate from employment with you.

  2. Hello!! I just recently learned what it meant to be a booth renter thanks to you!!! I have read every one of your “legal” blogs! Beyond helpful. So my situation is different then any that you have discussed so I hope you can help. I am a booth renter in New York. I pay annually for my booth renters license renewal and liability insurance. Where I work, the salon owner purchases everything (color, foils, products, cleaning supplies, etc). We provide our tools. She wants the salon to be a GoldWell exclusive salon so that is why she purchases the color. We are not allowed to bring in any other color line. How we pay her rent is, we give her a percentage from our sales to cover all that she buys. After I total my sales, I give her 40% and I keep 60%. And now she is getting annoyed that there isn’t coverage at the salon when girls take time off. It is a salon of 4 booth renters so it is small. She also wants the salon open during the opening hours. Example- if you wanted to leave at 4 because you don’t have anything but the salon closes at 6, she won’t tell you no but she makes you almost feel guilty about leaving early. The other stylist are now learning what our booth renters rights are thanks to your blogs. Now we just don’t know if how she runs her salon is actually legal. We have brought it up to her and she says her accountant says it is legal so we don’t push it. We want to trust her because we do love her and she does mean well. But we are starting to doubt her because it doesn’t feel right anymore. Please help us understand. Thanks so so so much!!!

    1. I actually have written about this a few times (but it may not be categorized appropriately, which is why you didn’t find it, lol). In my Know Your Rights post and in my 20 Factors post, I talk about the difference between self-employed professionals and the rights they have. (I also talk about it in this post about employment classification, in this one about booth rental, and in a few others about the atrocity that is booth rental, lol.)

      Here are your answers:
      1.) You need a flat rental rate–not a percentage of gross sales. You’re getting screwed at 40%. (Self-employment tax is 15.3% just for federal, plus your state income tax. All that is coming out of your pocket.)
      2.) She can’t be supplying products for you. That’s completely inappropriate. You use what you want. You are a tenant and she is a landlord. She can’t tell you how to run your business or what to use.
      3.) You’re reporting sales to her and providing a percentage, which is an extremely inappropriate degree of control. This is also why she’s trying to dictate your schedules. The more you’re there, the more you make, which directly affects her rental income. That’s why the commission in lieu of flat rent is inappropriate. It gives her incentive to control you beyond what is acceptable.
      4.) Is the way she’s operating legal? Here’s my obligatory “I’m not a lawyer” statement, but my assessment is no–she isn’t. The laws are very clear and she’s obviously not in compliance.

      Inform her that her accountant’s opinion isn’t worth shit unless her accountant is an attorney with a specialization in labor law. You read this post so you already know what that statement means–she’s either lying or she’s relying on someone not qualified to advise her. If she’s so convinced it’s legal, then she’ll have no problem with you guys calling the labor board for clarification, right? Drop that line and see how she reacts. Her response will be pretty telling, I can promise you, lol. It’s likely that she is making common mistakes, but there’s no reason you should be at a disadvantage on account of her ignorance.

      1. Hi Tina,
        I am going through a similar situation. I had to purchase an area renters license and liability insurance but… I was there the hours she wanted me there, I couldn’t dictate what I charged. I was commission based and she was taking 60% and I was getting 40% of my services. I started out working 5 days and then she dicided it was best to reduce my days down to 2 and half days. That’s not what I really wanted to do. She also took monies for back bar and color usage. I gave her my notice because I couldn’t survive on what I was making. She tried to make me feel bad about leaving and that she was trying to help me. She took my clients color cards and she took my area renters license and would not give it back to me. Is that legal?

  3. I’m not sure if this is the right article to present this question under, however I’m gonna throw it out there. I work in a booth rent salon. The other stylist & I pay the same amount of rent per week. We have keys to the salon & can come & go as we please. Our owner, has recently hired another booth rent stylist who is only going to work Saturday & Sundays, but she is not being charged the same amount we are. She has all the same rights to areas that we do (wax room, pedi chairs, etc) & has her own station, she CHOOSES to only work 2 days a week. I feel this is not fair & am wondering if I should just drop it or if it should be brought up to the owner. If so, how do I go about addressing it w her. Thanks!

    1. You can bring it up if you’d like, but how the landlord does business with other tenants isn’t your business or concern. She likely charges her less because she only rents those units those two days. If you do bring it up, prepare for that conversation to get ugly. just as she has no right to question your business practices, you have no right to question hers.

  4. I work at a salon that classifies us as independent contractors so I’m 1099. However, I am on pay roll because the salon pays me commission, I’m charged a product fee for each client because they purchase the products, they set up mandatory meetings without compensation, and they have also changed the hours I work without my permission. I can’t help but feel like I’m getting taken advantage of. What should I do?

  5. Good Morning Tina
    I have worked at the same salon for 27 years .I was asked to become a booth renter OK
    So can you tell me what requirements are entitled by the owner {weekly rental owner rules}
    It is a very busy salon walk ins all the time and we have a business phone line How do i go with this Is the phone line included in the weekly rent? What is included in weekly rent?
    Thank you

    1. Hey Sharon! You’d want to negotiate a lease agreement with the owner. What is or is not included will depend on what that document ultimately says when the two of you finalize it. I highly recommend reading all the posts I’ve written here about booth rental and what it means for you moving forward. You may or may not be willing to pursue it after realizing what’s involved and how risky it can be.

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