Ask A [Salon] Manager


One of my favorite blogs that I highly recommend is Alison Green’s “Ask A Manager.” I read it and I laugh and laugh. Then, I check my own inbox and cry–because the questions aren’t nearly as funny when I’m the one that has to answer them.

I’m going to share some common questions I’ve been asked that keep appearing in my inbox. You’re invited to submit questions of your own if you’d like.

1.) “What is minimum wage?”

Minimum wage is the minimum hourly wage amount an employer must pay an American employee. The federal amount is currently $7.25 an hour. State amounts vary and some municipalities have also instituted their own. In any jurisdiction, the “prevailing” wage is what you’re owed. For example, if you’re in a state with a $10 minimum wage, that wage prevails over the federal minimum.

Salon owners will try to exempt themselves from minimum wage and overtime obligations by requiring their staff to be “independent contractors.” Unless you are a booth renter, operating your own business independent of ANY employer control–you are not independent.

2.) “How do I tell my owner that she’s doing something wrong?”

The best approach is an informed and diplomatic one. Never assume the wrongdoing was intentional. It’s highly likely that your employer didn’t know better.

3.) “Can the owner refuse to pay me my last check because I quit without notice?”

I get asked this question a lot in varying forms: “Can the owner give me an IOU if the salon doesn’t have the money to pay me this week?” “Can the owner withhold my check as punishment?” “Can the owner change my pay rate after the pay period?”

The answer to all of these is “No.” Your employer MUST pay you the amount they promised you. Some states even have wage payment laws that outline when your payment is due by.

4.) “The salon owner fired me unjustly. What can I do about it?”

In the absence of an employment contracts that prohibits or restricts termination under specific terms–unless the termination was clearly discriminatory, there’s nothing you can do about it legally (unless you live in Wyoming, which remains–for whatever reason–the only state that is not an at-will employment state). Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects American workers from wrongful discharge based on race, religion, sex, age, and national origin. Some states have legislation protecting workers from unjust and retaliatory termination, specifically where the termination conflicts with public policy, but you’ll have to check your state’s laws regarding that.

5.) “What’s the difference between ’employment-at-will’ and ‘right-to-work?'”

Employment-at-will indicates that employment is terminable at any time for any reason (or for no reason). The employee or employer can terminate the employment arrangement “at will.” It is employment without obligation–meaning that neither you nor the employer are contractually or otherwise legally obligated to one another.

The right-to-work law prohibits union security agreements between unions and employers that require employee participation as a condition of employment. As an example, let’s say we had a Professional Beauty Workers Union of Awesome. We want more members. So, we decide to approach Regis Corp. Right-to-work legislation would not allow our Union of Awesome to approach businesses and strike a deal, requiring their workers to become union members as a condition of working there. Currently, 24 states have right-to-work provisions. This has absolutely nothing to do with our industry. Generally, when I’m asked questions about “right-to-work,” what you’re really asking me about is “employment-at-will.”

6.) “My salon owner wants me to walk their dog/do their grocery shopping/scrub toilets/herd rabid cats. Is that legal?”

If it’s not criminal activity and you’re getting paid in accordance with the FLSA (or your employment contract), then yes. Not only is it legal, but you, as a W-2 employee, have an obligation to comply–or resign.

I have several more that I’d like to address in individual posts since the responses are considerably longer. Wait for it….

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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 book The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and the blog This Ugly 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.


  1. I’m a salon owner , I lease my station, if I give a 30 day notice to one of the booth renter and she decide to leave before the 30 days is up, do I need to give her back some of the rent ?

  2. I am a booth renter (in Wyoming) I have no contract and I am leaving my current salon to open my own place. YEA!! I was not planning on telling the salon owner because historically she has been awful, bad mouths anyone how leaves and EVERY single time someone has left has accused them or tells everyone they are stealing while they are still there. I just wanted the least amount of resistance and drama, BUT, she has gotten word I am leaving and asked me over txt message “what date can I expect you out of the salon” with some other colorful words. I have not responded because I don’t know what to say. although I only have two weeks left until my place opens but I no clue how to handle her without a very long drama infused two weeks!!! help….

    • I know this response is late (crazy travel schedule), but I’m going to answer you because this question definitely needs one.

      Honesty is the name of the game here (and well, everywhere if it were up to me). I’d arrange a lunch or dinner date to talk to her about it. If she refuses, ask if you can speak at the salon about it. Apologize for her finding out the way she did and not coming to her directly, then explain exactly why you didn’t. If she has a history of being a little crazy when people quit, tell her that. Just like employees need to be told exactly why they’re being fired, employers need to know exactly what behaviors drove certain decisions (the decision to quit and the decision to withhold notice, in this instance). As a renter, you’re in the very unique position of not owing her notice of any kind, so she’s not entitled to expect it of you. The rebellious part of me wants to tell you to tell her just that (“I’m a renter, not an employee. As long as my rent is paid up and I comply with the lease provisions, you’re not owed ‘notice.’), but Responsible Tina’s suggestions differ, lol.

  3. I have a unique situation. 2 of my 7 renters are best friends. One of the best friends, bought her own salon. She gave a 4 week notice. I accepted, and she is leaving this Saturday. Her best friend, who has decided to stay with me, is constantly talking about the new place, the new stylists she can ask to join her, I feel very uncomfortable in my own salon, and cannot wait till Saturday. Recently I found out that she only gave me the notice because her salon wasn’t completed yet. I also found out that the friend who is staying, actually found the new salon for the her.. They asked 2 of my estheticians and one stylist to go to new salon. They are inseparable, and I do not know why the other one is staying with me except for my location being more upscale. I feel used and hurt. I want them to go together. its just awkward now.

    • Hi Denise! I’ll answer this question in a full post (discussing the ethics of this maneuver by your renters and more), but for now, here’s the short answer:
      You can evict her if you’d like, and if I were you I would. I suspect she’s choosing to stay so that she can continue to recruit renters for her friend from within your salon. I’d say that represents a significant conflict of interest and would definitely be grounds for eviction.

  4. My daughter got fire from her salon jobs.She was in a car jacking and was very shooken up state for weeks. The salon did not care and sent her home and later send she left When she went back her license was missing. It been more than a month and she and I have called lots of time and they don’t know were her license is. What should she do?

    • Hi Maria! I’ll make a longer post about this just for you, but until then, here’s my short answer: 1.) Contact the state for a replacement and 2.) Find her a new job. My post will go into the ethics of this move (which, for the record I absolutely don’t agree with) and how the salon owner should have handled this situation.

  5. Can Salon Owners tell you who your clients can be? Like if they dont like someone can they tell you they are not welcome in the salon?

  6. Hey Tina, love this site, i stumbled upon it while looking up commission stylist topics. I own a salon and have an employee who has been with me for a year now and she has recieved continuous help and 1on1 meetings to help her but she just can not get on commission. i have a couple ways i want to handle this but i am interested in your suggestions as well. i plan to have another meeting with her and write her up for failing to cover commission for “x” amount of time, with an action plan to help motivate her and a timeline in which to do it in. any other ideas?

    • That’s a great idea, and likely what I’d do also. Without being there to evaluate the factors that could be causing her failure to meet productivity expectations, I can’t really point you in any particular direction, but almost always, I find that these failures are due to one or more of the following:
      1.) Inexperience/Lack of Training: If the services are being performed in a timely manner, than this cause can be eliminated.
      2.) Retention Failure: If the rebooking rates are low, she’s not meeting client expectations, or she’s behaving in a way that’s unbecoming to them. I’d keep an eye on her conduct and her output to determine where the problems are and take corrective action based on that assessment.
      3.) Marketing Defects: If new client acquisition rates are low, then the problem is with the salon’s marketing. The solution there is simple–evaluate the current advertising strategy and make changes. (For the record, I consider marketing the job of the salon owner/manager–not the responsibility of the employee, although I do agree that employees really should promote the business as much as they can since it benefits both them and the business.)
      4.) Lack of Motivation: Lazy employees are the ones who hide in the break room when walk-ins show up, or shift customers to other professionals. You see this a lot with hourly employees who lack effective commission incentives to perform. The problem is either with their work ethic, or the salon’s compensation structure. I advise doing what’s best for the business in regards to bonus distribution–not what meets the demands of a disgruntled employee. You can be fair without strangling the salon’s finances. If the employee isn’t happy with the structure, she’ll need to find a new job.


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