“A new client came into the salon for a color consult. She told me it was going to be her first color service ever and since I had a cancellation, I started on her right then. She complained about the product itching, but we were using 30 volume. When I rinsed her before applying toner, her scalp, hairline, and nape were red and a puffy in places, but she said her skin was always ‘really sensitive,’ so I continued. When she left, she said her head felt raw and tingly. The next day she emailed the salon owner a bunch of pictures of her swollen face and said she would be suing the salon. My boss said she wouldn’t take responsibility for what I did and told the client to sue me. She gave the client my personal contact information, and now I’m dealing with nasty emails from her. Can I be sued for this? Was it legal for my boss to give her my address and phone number? What do I do? How can I fix this?”
Can the client sue you? Sure. Anyone can sue anyone for anything. Welcome to America: the land of the free and the home of the frivolous lawsuit.
Was it legal for the salon owner to disclose your address and contact information without your consent? I’m unaware of any specific law prohibiting it aside from California Civ. Code §1798.81.5, but it certainly wasn’t a smart move, especially when the reason your employer disclosed the information is considered. However, I’m not sure whether or not that information would be considered “private,” since home addresses can often be found through public methods (YellowPages, for example). If your contact information could be obtained by anyone capable of searching a directory, it’s likely not protected by any privacy laws.
Can an employer refuse to take responsibility for the actions of their employee? Typically, no.
Generally, employers are legally responsible for the actions of the employees if the employee is acting within “the course and scope of employment,” which you were, since you were doing your job when the injury occurred. This is called “vicarious liability” or “respondeat superior;” the responsibility of the superior for the acts of their subordinate.
In this case, the injury you caused was a known risk of doing business–one the employer was certainly aware of, and should be insured for. Allergic reactions to products are not a new phenomenon in our industry. We’re explicitly warned about them in beauty school repeatedly and all major brands direct professionals to perform patch/predisposition tests on clients in their instructions. At the very least, the employer should have required patch tests prior to any chemical applications.
Both of you knew better, but I ultimately hold you responsible for failing to safeguard this client by not performing your due diligence here. Why do I consider you to be responsible and not your boss?
Without a doubt, a patch test should have been performed, whether or not the employer’s protocols required it.
You consulted with her. As an educated, licensed professional, when the client informed you that it would be her very first color application, you should have performed the patch test and planned to meet twenty-four to forty-eight hours later to evaluate her results. With as fast as she began showing symptoms of an allergic reaction, I’m positive you both would have determined not to proceed with the service, since her skin would have reacted almost immediately.
If you prioritized your income before your client’s welfare, you deserve to suffer the consequences of that decision just as much as your employer.
Luckily for you, a judge probably won’t see it this way and the employer will be held accountable for what I consider to be your professional negligence. For now, all you can do is wait to be served. Let a qualified attorney direct you from there.
Salon owners, if you don’t already have a patch test protocol at your salon, implement one immediately. If you don’t have professional liability insurance, get a policy. (Employees and renters, that goes for you too. Policies are dirt cheap. You can get them from from pretty much ANY professional association at a discount with a membership: The Professional Beauty Association, Associated Hair Professionals, Associated Nail Professionals, Associated Skin Care Professionals–take your pick.) Just keep in mind that a PLI policy might not cover you if you disregard the usage instructions of a chemical product. I’ve run through several major brands (Paul Mitchell, Redken, L’Oreal, Schwarzkopf, Pravana). All specifically dictate that professionals perform proper patch tests.
Don’t let the infrequency of these reactions deter you from making patch testing a priority. Many color allergies are caused by the PPD in the dye. According to this DailyMail article, Julia McCabe slipped into a coma and died after a severe allergic reaction to the PPD in the L’Oreal hair color she used frequently. The coroner in that case said there is a massive gap between beauty industry figures, which suggest four customers in a million suffered such a reaction, and academic research which suggests it was as many as 14%. Here’s another case where another woman, Aurora Figueroa Lumen, died after suffering from an allergy to the ammonia in the dye.
You have no excuse to keep from taking appropriate measures to protect your clients.
I side with the clients on this issue. We’re professionals. We can do better than this, and they deserve better from us.