AASM: “Can salon owners dictate who your clients are?”

AASM (Ask A Salon Manager) posts are Q&A posts. To submit your question, email me.

“Can a salon owner decide who my clients are? For example, if she doesn’t like someone, can she tell me they’re not welcome in the salon?”

This depends upon your employment status and whether the salon owner’s reason for refusing the client constitutes discrimination or not.

If you’re a renter, then you’re a commercial tenant operating your own independent business. In that arrangement, the salon owner functions as your landlord and generally cannot dictate how you conduct your business or with whom. Unless the client poses a risk to other people within the building or behaves in a significantly disruptive way, a landlord doesn’t have a say in who you service.

If you’re an employee, the business owner can absolutely dictate to you—determining not just who you’re permitted to service as an employee of their business, but what products you use, what you wear, what you do, and how you do it. They have the right to refuse service to anyone at any time—as long as they’re not discriminating against a protected class.

When does a salon owner cross the line from “right to refuse service” to “civil rights violation?”

Whenever a client gets turned away based on their race, color, religion, national origin, disability—and in many jurisdictions now (hopefully soon on a federal level with the recently proposed Full Equality Act of 2015)—sexual orientation and gender identity. The Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law, which means all US states must comply. It prohibits discrimination by privately owned “places of public accommodation.”

Discrimination aside, the owner of an employee-based establishment may refuse service to anyone if they have a specific, rational reason to refuse service. That refusal must be consistent, meaning that the policy must apply to everyone.

Generally, business owners do not like to turn away customers. Money is money, regardless of whose wallet it comes from, but in salons you often see refusal of service for one of the following reasons:

  1. Disruptive: Guests who are too loud are often asked not to return, since they disrupt the atmosphere for the other clients in the salon. It’s not unreasonable to require clients to respect the space by keeping their volume down and dismiss those who refuse to comply.
  2. Under the Influence: Obviously, anyone under the influence doesn’t belong in the salon.
  3. Sexual Impropriety: Whether they’re dressing or behaving overtly sexual or outright propositioning employees for sex, this has to be our #1 reason to boot out a customer. If I had a nickle for every time I reprimand or dismiss a client for something of this nature, I’d have probably $0.65—that’s a lot of nickles.
  4. Ineligible for Services: Any client who presents with a disorder or condition that makes them ineligible for services legally must be dismissed. Responsible salon owners will never allow their employees to operate outside of their scope of practice.
  5. Aggressive/Unfriendly/Disrespectful: Can a salon owner dismiss a client for being rude? You bet. We aren’t obligated to tolerate assholery.

It sounds like your salon owner has a personal issue with your client. If she simply “doesn’t like” the client on a personal level (for instance, if the client happens to be an ex-high school rival), I’d argue that she needs to grow up and move on. It’s unprofessional for her to put you in the middle of her personal issues with another person by making it your job to communicate to the client that they’re unwelcome in her establishment.

If the owner wants to ban someone she “doesn’t like” from her business, she needs to have that talk with the client herself.

If you’re renting, I’d recommend reiterating the nature of your role within the salon and telling her to stay in her lane–her landlord lane. Regardless of your relationship with the owner, you shouldn’t be serving as her middleman. Force her to star in the soap opera she’s writing, rather than allowing her to push you into some drama as her proxy.

Have you ever had to dismiss a client? Tell us below in the comments!


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9 Responses

  1. So I was reading through this article to see if something that was happening in the salon I work at was legal but I didn’t find what I was looking for so my question is, Is it legal for my boss not to give me walkin-clients all day because she was mad I had to change my schedule for winter insuring I get home safely? I am not the first stylist she has done this to and she’s admitted she does this. Any info will help!

    1. Unfortunately, it’s up to the salon owner who to distribute clients to. Fortunately, she’s required by federal law to pay you for your time, so if she’s not in compliance with the prevailing wage laws, she’s setting herself up for serious problems. It goes against her best interests to have employees in the salon who aren’t generating revenue, so I’m guessing she’s not in compliance. If I were you, I’d bring these laws to her attention and let her know that you expect to be paid regardless of whether there’s a client in your chair or not.

  2. I would like to discuss an ongoing situation here in Nashville TN, the newest home of “boutique barbershops” (also known as fake barbershops). First of all, they totally discriminate in hiring men. Second, if you have years of experience, even the experience of owning your own shop, you are discriminated against because you are “too old” (read: not hip).Some of these boutique shops require a “headshot”, but not “that much experience”. They advertise for “recent graduates” (meaning YOUNG) applicants.
    Several ads by these fake barbershops are on full display on our local Craigslist. If I had the money to hire a proven litigation atty. and one who specializes in discriminatory law, I would. If you are over 40 years old, male, and are a “barber”, not a “stylist”, you will not work in Nashville. Unless you do mainly Hispanic and/or African-American hair. End of story. If you don’t have multiple piercings, in your face tattoos, and your head shaved up to your hairline, you won’t find work in Nashville as a Barber. The ads all mention that you must be proficient in straight razor shaves, while 95% of all young to middle-age males in Nashville have full beards or some variation of facial hair. One ad for a local barbershop expressed exclusively, that they wanted “female barbers”. If the shoe were on the other foot, there would be a local outcry and lawsuits, and a Federal investigation on sex discrimination. Experience, upscale clientele, and high standards don’t matter here anymore. Ya just gotta be “hip”(young), use snap on attachments to your clipper work, no more freehanding skills needed anymore, etc. Age and sex discrimination is alive and well in this phony, hipster/poser town.
    And, as stated in many columns here, forget about being an “employee”, or commission over 60%, those days are long gone. Nashville is not the only city with this crap going on, it’s been going on for quite awhile nationwide, Just another “Dirty Little Secret” of the Hair Business.

    1. Hi Floyd! 😀 I’ve never heard of boutique barbershops. They haven’t made it down here to Florida yet, but we see similar tacky concepts all the time. (Lingerie salons, for example.) It’s a travesty. I’ve also seen my fair share of discriminatory hiring practices from a management perspective. I’ve presented qualified, talented applicants to owners and had them shoot the applicant down based on their race, gender, or age. One owner told me, “Our clients won’t want a black girl doing their hair.” This professional came to the salon with fifteen years of experience, a full book of clients, and a standing position as HSN’s set stylist. It just blows my mind that people are willing to dismiss talent based on something so superficial and backwards.

  3. Hi, as a salon owner do I have the right to refuse “difficult” clients? More specifically clients who are not clear on what they want even though they come in for the same thing all the time. Thus going over the allocated time set for the specific service & leaving you mentally drained.

    1. You have the right to refuse service to anyone, so long as those reasons aren’t based on race, handicap, gender, religion–or any other reason protected by federal anti-discrimination laws. And you should. My friend Jaime Schrabeck and I often tell students in our lectures that bad clients aren’t worth having. Here’s the replay of her free webinar version of that class:

  4. Hi: as a nail salon owner do I have right to refuse to the client who is rude and disrespectful to me or my employees
    Shut as ! 1 client she is come to my salon about 5 times and I’m the one take care of her nail she very happy and she keep coming back every 2 weeks
    but the last 4 weeks she get her nail done again like always by the time about to check her out she started complaining her nail is not right she like to fix that and that I tried my best to fix for but she still complaining
    And I’m asking if she not happy with the service I can take off her nail and she can go but she said I don’t want to take it off
    And keep complaining and I’m say if she dont want to take off she can go free if she comes back do I have right to refuse her service ? And what word is the best to let her know you not take care her nail

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