Engaged to Wait: Nobody Works for Free

I’m sure this post is going to cause a war between salon owners and salon employees, but these things need to be said. These are my opinions and I’m sure a lot of people (mostly salon owners) will disagree with me, but the way this industry is run is a complete joke.

In no other industry are employees expected to “sit and wait” without compensation. In no other industry are those same employees (who are not being paid hourly) expected to perform cleaning or reception duties. This needs to stop and the only way to stop it is for the staff to refuse to accept those employment terms and for owners to step up and run their businesses appropriately. If you disagree, feel free to email me or comment below and we’ll have a discussion about it.

Currently, the “standard” compensation method in many salons is “commission-only.” Some weeks, your paycheck (when averaged against the hours you’ve worked) may end up far less than minimum wage and some weeks you’ll make considerably more than minimum wage. In either case, in most salons, you’re expected to sit around in empty salons, do laundry, clean floors, answer phones, and perform a whole litany of other menial tasks that fall far outside your job description as a nail technician or hair stylist–tasks you may not be getting compensated to do.

stop working for free.
This is an industry, not a charity.

Most American workers are covered by the FLSA (the Fair Labor Standards Act), which is enforced by the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor. The FLSA dictates that if you are a commission-only employee, your paycheck (when averaged into hourly pay for a two week pay period) must equal or exceed the prevailing minimum wage. If it doesn’t, the employer must make up the difference. Commission-based employees are also entitled to overtime pay.

Salons are not exempted from federal labor laws. The FLSA classifies salons as “retail and service establishments.”

“Retail and service establishments are defined as establishments, 75% of whose annual dollar volume of sales of goods or services (or of both) is not for resale and is recognized as retail sales or services in the particular industry.”

As a “retail and service establishment,” salons can be considered exempt from federal overtime pay requirements if all three conditions are met:
1.) the employee must be employed by a retail or service establishment, and
2.) the employee’s regular rate of pay must exceed one and one-half times the applicable minimum wage for every hour worked in a workweek in which overtime hours are worked, and
3.) more than half the employee’s total earnings in a representative period must consist of commissions.
Unless all three conditions are met, the Section 7(i) exemption is not applicable, and overtime premium pay must be paid for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek at time and one-half the regular rate of pay. Tips paid to service employees by customers may never be considered commissions for the purposes of the exemption.

The FLSA doesn’t care what you’re doing at work. If you’re there at the request of your boss, you need to be getting compensated. If your employer requires you to sit in the salon and wait for business, they should be paying you. Whether you’re folding towels or playing Candy Crush on your iPad, you’re being “engaged to wait.”

“Generally, the facts may show that the employee was engaged to wait (which is work time) or the facts may show that the employee was waiting to be engaged (which is not work time). For example, a secretary who reads a book while waiting for dictation or a fireman who plays checkers while waiting for an alarm is working during such periods of inactivity. These employees have been engaged to wait.”

Too many of you are being treated as servants. You’re told that you have to “pitch in” and “do your share” and “be part of the team.” It is one thing to clean up after yourself and help out your coworkers, it is an entirely different thing to work for free.

You are skilled.
You are licensed.
Your time is valuable.

The problem with the “commission only” compensation model is that it doesn’t motivate the employer to ensure the employees are busy.

It costs an owner nothing to fill a salon with bodies and tell them to “sit and wait.” I know of salon owners who have never paid for reception services or cleaning services. Why would they when they can order their stylists do it for free? Some salon owners have even gone so far as to intentionally sabotage an employee’s books so they’ll be available to run the front desk, assist, or clean.

These owners will keep their salons full of employees because they aren’t paying anyone hourly. It doesn’t matter to them that each of their workers is barely making enough money to pay their mortgages because the owners are simply collecting income from them. There’s no risk of loss involved, so they hire indiscriminately.

salon Owners: Just because you have twelve stations does not mean that you have enough business to support twelve stylists.

What happens if we throw in “payday pressure?” What will happen if we tell this same owner that if her stylists don’t make at least minimum wage in commission income for each hour they’re on the clock that she will have to make up the difference in their paychecks? What is that owner going to do? She’s going to cut hours (or perhaps let a few workers go) and ramp up her advertising to ensure that she’s making enough money to cover payroll and overhead, otherwise she will go out of business.

Prevailing wage requirements effectively light fires under the asses of employers and motivates them to ensure that each worker is generating enough money to support their wages.

The same owner sure as hell isn’t going to tell a room full of hourly employees to sit around and “wait for clients” if she’s going to be responsible for paying each of them $10.50 an hour at the end of the pay period. It’s no mystery why our local markets are so flooded with salons, is it? Do you think even half of these places would be open if they were guaranteeing their employees wages? I don’t. Good riddance to bad management.

I’ve consulted for dozens of salons where the owners have hired far more professionals than they needed. The place would be full of employees who spend every day sitting around, waiting to build their book–yet, the owner still hires until all the empty stations are full. Everyone in the salon is unhappy. The senior stylists and techs are frustrated because they haven’t built yet and are having to share the limited walk-in business with several new people. Every commission-based employee knows that a new stylist often means a pay cut for everyone in the salon.

Do not offer people a “job” if you cannot guarantee them a paycheck they can survive on.

Smart owners start small and commit to reasonable expansion. Smart owners don’t add new employees until they can afford them. As an owner, you need to be mindful of the welfare of your employees. Their livelihood is your responsibility. You need to be an equal partner in their success and ensure your employees are busy and profitable or you will forever struggle with turnover.

“But I can’t afford to pay my workers an hourly rate!” If you can’t afford to pay your employees, you should never have opened a business to begin with. Your management skills are severely deficient. I’ve managed six salons over the course of my career and have consulted for more than I can count. In each of them, we’ve been more than capable of balancing our overhead expenses and service pricing to design compliant compensation systems that motivate and properly award our employees for superior performance. If you can’t do the same, you would be better off renting your stations out and letting the booth renters fend for themselves–at least that way they’ll only have themselves to blame if they fail.

If you have to resort to misclassification, wage theft, and other FLSA violations and are still struggling to break-even, you were in no way prepared for business ownership.

If you want to be a business owner, take ownership of your business.

You cannot point the finger at your team and blame them for their lack of income. You are the captain of the ship. Your leadership determines whether or not the salon succeeds. Every salon has an employee or two who consistently under-performs due to their own inabilities, but if every single one of your team members are floundering, the problem is with you; not them. You are failing them as a leader and you’re failing your business.

One business owner I consulted for actually had the nerve to tell me that the financial welfare of her employees wasn’t her “problem.” It is absolutely your problem. If your employees aren’t making money, they are not going to stay at your business, and employee turnover is far more costly than many salon owners realize.

Every employee you lose will cost your business clients.

Money is a motivator. Guaranteeing your employees hourly pay is the only effective way to motivate them to do the salon bitchwork that needs to be done. In no other industry will you find employees willing to do laundry, cleaning, and reception for no compensation. Your “commission-only” stylists, technicians, and therapists are paid for the work they do on the clients. They’re paid for doing nails, hair, skincare, and massage. They earn the money they make during the performance of that service. Past that point, if you’re not guaranteeing them a livable income, they’re generally not required to do anything additional.

No worker owes you a goddamn thing if they’re not classified or compensated in accordance with applicable laws. However, if you’re paying your workers properly and classifying them as employees, the actually do have an obligation to obey–they have to do what they’re told or forfeit their position.

Salon professionals, quit accepting this treatment. Lay out what you will and won’t accept from the owner at the first meeting. If the owner has stylists sitting around and doing nothing, you aren’t getting a “job offer,” you’re being offered an opportunity to sit around her business for free and “maybe” make money for her.

In order for a Job offer to be a legitimate job offer, there needs to be some promise of income–some actual JOB to be done.

Let the owner know that you have bills to pay. If they don’t have enough traffic to ensure that you’ll be receiving a solid paycheck, you aren’t interested.

This isn’t to say that you should rely entirely on the owner for your success. This road goes both ways. The owner’s job is to make sure that the salon is well-advertised and well-managed so that clients are coming in the door and her staff are making money (so the business stays open). Your job is to maintain the clientele that you gain as a result of your employment, ensuring that they leave happy and eventually return.

Let the owner know that you’re happy to do your job if she’s doing hers. You’ll sit around all day every day–you’ll do towels, you’ll answer phones, you’ll sweep hair, you’ll even go on coffee runs, as long as she understands that you expect to be paid for your time. How can any salon professional reconcile the fact that even unskilled, entry-level employees are being paid, but you aren’t? If your bag boy at the grocery store and your cashier at McDonald’s are being paid to be present, why the hell shouldn’t you be?

If you are “engaged to wait,” your employer needs to be compensating you.

Almost everyone who contacts me asks, “How come we don’t have a union to protect our rights?” We don’t need a union. We’re big girls, we can do this ourselves.

For as long as you allow yourselves to be victims, you will be victims.

You are not a servant or a slave. You deserve to be paid for your time. Demand more for yourselves. This is a career–not a hobby–so treat it like one.

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This post was originally published on October 4, 2013.

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82 Responses

  1. My daughter started commission a week ago. When she was hired she was told she would start commission after bringing in 900.00 in services three weeks in a row. well this hasn’t happened yet and her employer still put her on commission. Today she is doing four blow-dries for a colorist (that’s all she has on her books). She told me she doesn’t get paid for doing this because it’s already part of the service. So basically she is working for free today. My daughter is frustrated, yet doesn’t know what to do. I recently found your website and will be sharing it with her. Thank you for all the great information!

  2. You’re welcome! She really needs to find a place where the owner understands their responsibilities as an employer. The owner should be splitting the color service cost and the blow dry cost between the two of them and allocating the pay accordingly. The fact that it’s “included in the service” means nothing. The colorist doesn’t deserve payment for the portion of that service she isn’t performing.

  3. my gf started working in a salon that just opened a month ago. she has been getting commission pay, working anywhere from 48-52 hours a week and getting weekly checks at around 175 (give or take a few bucks). first off idk if this salon meets FLSA standards cause they just started, but my question to you is should she be getting paid minimum wage? and overtime? I hate to see her drive 50 miles to work and back, spend all those hours in a salon that doesn’t seem to care about the wages shes getting. if there is something she can do id like to know asap. thank you.

    1. It’s not right. Whether or not a new business is required to adhere to FLSA is questionable, but I would assume they are since the owner is unlikely to be able to predict her yearly gross with any amount of certainty. I advise all salon owners to be compliant whether or not they “think” they’ll be required to. (What are they going to do if they gross $500,001? Go back and check their payroll for the year for every pay period and reimburse their staff for unpaid wages, plus make the necessary contributions to their taxes? …I doubt it.)

      Contact the DOL and let them know the situation. I recommend doing so via phone. They respond to emails quickly, but their email responses aren’t nearly as helpful since they seem to be generic form responses. In addition, I’d talk to the owner and ask if she’s even aware of the FLSA and what her responsibilities are as an employer. Odds are decent that she doesn’t…most salon owners don’t. If she needs help, she can contact me and I’ll be happy to walk her through the process.

  4. I am a commission only employee at a salon. I am scheduled to work 6 hours a day, 3 days a week. If I don’t get booked, I am not required to be on site but ‘on-call’. Is being on-call technically a billable work hour?
    And the salon policy says that I should be at least 15 minutes early before my first appointment of the day. There is 15 minutes of clean-up time after each appointment built in to my book as well. That makes my average service an hour and a half long, so if I calculate service time and prep/cleaning time, I make far less than minimum wage per hour. And also there is weekly and monthly disinfection protocol required by the state board, which will take extra 15-30 minutes of my own time. Can I claim that these prep/clean up time to be properly calculated to fulfill the FLSA requirement? Thank you

    1. This is an EXCELLENT question! I really should address this in a separate blog post in the future–some freaky, Bizarro future where I actually have time to write new blog posts, lol.

      Per the DOL, if you’re not required to be at the site, you’re not technically working and that time isn’t billable. If you are required to be at the salon, you need to be getting paid.

      The way to calculate your working time is to calculate all the time you’re clocked in–not the time you’re actually working on clients. I’ll bet you find when you do it that way (total paycheck divided by total hours present, clocked in, in the salon) you’ll find that you’re way below minimum wage. Since these cleaning duties are part of your job, they’re work hours. Your work hours are not just the hours you have clients in your chair–it’s every hour you’re present at work, no matter what you’re doing.

  5. I am an owner and I will go ahead and tell you this does not make me mad or upset, and no one in my salon makes less than 10 bucks an hour… but there is something that would have to change for this to happen and not put most of the salons across the country out of business.. the avg commission rate paid in salons would have to be dropped drastically and the prices of services would have to increase to cover the wages for the time you are not “busy” ( actually providing a service) if you look at the avg hourly paying business they set aside around 35 to 38% of revenue to cover payroll. just some food for thought..

    1. I absolutely agree with you. I’ve actually written several articles about how unsustainable the current commission-only compensation model is. I highly recommend not paying more than 35% in gross sales out in payroll. In our business, anything above that puts the salon owner at an extreme disadvantage. If you search this site for “commission” and read the articles I’ve written, you’ll see that I’m very, VERY much on your side in this, lol.

  6. This information was so helpful! Thank you for taking the time to write this out. I do have a question! I have been working my Salon for almost 3 years and it’s a well established place. I give my schedule to my salon owner, and I am required to work the hours I give them. However, if I am not busy, I am required to sit and wait inside the building. I don’t believe that it’s right to make me stay in the salon if I am not being paid. When I calculate my hours I never make under minimum wage, however, is it right for her to make us stay if we don’t have clients for the sole purpose of her business being reliable for walkins? for example, I don’t have clients for four hours this morning, but she wants me to be inside waiting. I have an errand to do with the courthouse and I’m not able to leave, is this right? Or should I be able to leave, and be on call?

    Thanks so much!

    1. Legally, as long as you’re making at least the prevailing wage, she can expect you to wait since you’re being compensated in accordance with the prevailing wage laws–but if she isn’t guaranteeing you that pay, then no.

  7. Why does the FLSA exclude businesses which make less than 500,000 a year. That is absolutely ridiculous! This basically means smaller businesses are free to exploit labor as much as they want without recourse.

    I live in Tucson Arizona, and I can honestly say that I cant find a salon which actually pays a minimum wage. Few if any market, and completely expect the stylists to build yhemselves on their own.

    This is mitigation of risk onto the employees, and if its not illegal, it should be. I’ve been in the industry for 3 years here, I have a marginal clientelle, and have not been able to make more than the minimum wage in any of that time.

    If there is a way to expose this to the mainstream I am completely behind it! I’m tired of bad business owners with no grasp of how to run one. (If I had the money I would just run my own, but it takes a substantial amount to do it right. I would have the best stylists, because I would take care of mine!)

    It should easily be said, if you own a business it is your responsibility to grow it, manage it and market it. If I am to be the sole marketer for myself at the salon i am at… (what is the cost of actual marketing? They can pay that too!) “Ok! Maybe a little over the top, but it puts the point home.” Salons should be paying for marketing.

    Businesses which dont market themselves fail, salons should be subject to the same terms as everyone else! Instead of blaming their stylists for not having clients.

    I’m really tired of it!

    Anywhere in the country have space for a good stylist who needs to leave his home city for a real job?

    1. Here’s the really interesting thing about that $500k threshold: The government doesn’t ever seem to take that into account in my experience. I’ve seen salon owners who gross less than $200k get absolutely slammed with federal labor violations. I can’t determine why that’s even there, because as you said–it doesn’t make sense that the government would reward a business owner for poor performance by allowing them special exemption to federal labor laws.

      The mitigation of risk is likely illegal (according to the IRS), since an employee should never have to assume a risk of profit/loss.

      I agree with literally everything you said, and I’ve been doing everything I can to bring more awareness to this. Recently, NYT and ThinkProgress (I was interviewed in that one) ran articles that called considerable attention to it, but the whole thing is still gaining traction.

    1. I think technically we could belong to Service Industry Worker’s Union, but I didn’t really look into it. With all the progress being made right now in the employee rights movement, I’m getting less and less concerned with the direction we’re heading every day, lol.

  8. If a employee was paid commission – had a deal with the owner 60/40 split but the employee had to pay for all her supplies and products – gets pretty expensive as you know – was the employer responsible to pay for this or the employee – especially with the new law in effect.

    1. In the majority of states, employers are expected to furnish materials and supplies to the employees. They’re also expected to cover all cost-of-doing-business expenses. There’s a list of states linked in this article with their wage statutes, if you want to read more.

  9. Hi, I work in the state of Virginia and our boss/salon owner charges a “product fee”. For an all over color or re-touch, she charges the STYLIST(s) a $5 fee. If we do a highlight or two-dimensional, we get charged $10 fee!! How can I find out if this is legal or not? Also, we pay for every hairspray, gel, balm, etc. to keep at our personal stations. I came from a salon where NONE of this happened!! We had a community cart with products for everyone to use on clients and we did NOT pay for them or ever charged for the color or lightener we used to perform services on our clients! Thanks in advance!

  10. This is the best most comprehensive information I have seen on this subject! Thank you so much for posting it. I am currently workin in a salon that is commission only. She currently gives us 50% and on top of that she charges a $2 “shop fee” I find this insulting. But I just needed the job so I took it for a place to do my small clientele. I haven’t said anything, but I did cut my hours back to 20 hours a week and took a different job part time in a call center to supplement my income. I don’t know how long I will stay at this salon because the pay is so bad. I posted this article in my page hoping she will read it.

    1. A lot of salon owners simply don’t know any better. I’d say the vast majority of the ones I speak to are just doing things the way the owners they worked for did them. Then again, there’s always that percentage who do it because they think they can get away with it. -.-

  11. A little unrelated but.. Can a salon pay an apprentice on 6.15 an hour? The minimum where I am is 8.05, the salon owners say that because of tips and the fact that they are “helping us out”, and “giving education”, which is mandatory and unpaid that’s okay because you can make tips and commission bonuses. Though apprentices barely get tipped.

    1. Regardless of what they call you, if you’re an employee, you’re legally entitled to the prevailing minimum wage. Some salons do take a “tip credit,” to offset that wage, but that’s based on the assumption that they’re actually tracking tips and taxing them as income in accordance with federal tax law.

  12. I am a new spa owner, and I have a question. My question is regarding training. I hired someone for lash extensions and waxing. She is good at both, but she would like to offer more services in order to appeal to more people. I would have to train her in several procedures and machines in order for this to work. She is currently paid on commission but is requiring an hour wage in order for me to train her. Because I only need her for lashes and waxing, should I be required to pay her to train her to perform other services? I am an independent Esthetician and she would be operating out of my second treatment room. I have no problem sharing knowledge. As a matter of fact, I love doing so. But I do have an issue paying someone to share this knowledge. Please let me know if I’m wrong…

    1. If she’s paid on commission, she’s entitled to an hourly wage, since she’s an employee. She should be classified as W-2, and it’s your responsibility to ensure she’s paid the prevailing minimum wage for each hour she’s working. If you’d like her to operate her own business independently (which it seems like you’d prefer since you’re working as an esthetician and she’s using your second treatment room), then she should be signing a lease and paying a flat weekly or monthly rate. If I were you, under that arrangement, I’d be charging her for the training.

  13. I was working on commission as an esthetician for the last two years until my boss found out of the new law. My new arrangement is hourly and my commission is 40% and she receives 60%. Here is an example of my new pay arrangement. If I work 20hours at $10 an hour that is $200 my services are $276 the $200 covers my services leaving me w the $76 she now takes her %60 leaving me w $30.4 now w that she says I didn’t make my “quota” so that week I would not receive commission. I do get hourly and my tips. Is this a correct way of doing business?

    1. There is no “new” law. These laws have been in place for decades. However, the new arrangement is likely legal. As long as she’s ensuring to meet the prevailing wage for every hour you’ve been at work, it’s legal.

  14. I really really wish I would have read this two years ago when I experienced the whole article myself. I worked for a salon who word for word was this article. And the funny thing is they’re still this way. And when I left (they lied and set me up to fail) all my clients came with me and repeatedly mentioned how much they disliked the way the business was run. I honestly couldn’t read the entire article bc it brought back so many awful negative feelings and anxiety. I tell my friends who still work there all of it is so wrong. I even just sent them this article. All I want to say is I hope this can reach the ears of many stylists. Bc in Indiana it’s hard to find a salon that is this way. Which is why only being 6 months on the floor I left, started booth renting and have never been more successful. I respect your honesty and the real leadership qualities you are. Now I’ll go back to reading more of your blogs

    1. It’s very difficult to find salons that are properly managed, but it’s getting easier. New salon owners are coming on the scene who are aware of these issues and don’t want their salons to fail, so they’re utilizing better (legal) compensation systems. For us, this means that it looks like we might make less money on the surface (instead of 40% and up in commissions, we’ll be making flat base wages of $10+ an hour and commissions ranging from 8-15%, plus tips), but that money will be steady. We’ll be paid for being at work instead of told to sit around an empty ass salon. The owners will not overstaff our salons, putting ten unbuilt professionals into the same building and having them fight over walk-ins, and telling them to “market themselves.” These salons can afford to provide health plans and other benefits we’ve never enjoyed in this industry. It’s an overall win, but it’s going to take time.

  15. I’m a 13 yr salon owner who does pay hourly or commission whichever is higher, I follow the labor laws, IRS rules, etc… what I don’t understand in all the previous posts mostly about how bad salon owners are is, in this industry if my staff isn’t making money neither is the salon, so why would I not want them being successful and satisfied working at my salon? Why would I not want long term stylists? I think the employee’s and the owners need to start coming together in a partnership and quit playing this blame game. This is a wonderful industry, I don’t know anyone who was ever forced to stay in it, if it’s not for you quit complaining and go see what else is out there for you.
    I work behind the chair just like my stylists, I get paid on the same commission scale they do, I get a paycheck just like they do, except I don’t take a retail commission or a paid vacation like I give my full time stylists because I feel that that’s just more money that goes back to the salon for marketing, upgrading etc…
    I think that the big misconception is that employee’s think the salon owners are “getting” the other portion of the stylists commission, where do they think the money comes to pay for the utilities, rent, products, marketing, employee taxes, salon improvements, repairs , Christmas parties, coffee, soda, wine (I might add that my stylists also get to have at no cost to them) education?. Wow, a lot has to be paid out of the 50% that the SALON gets, not me, its not in my paycheck.
    And if they are “sitting around” not getting paid like a few of the posts mentioned which means that they aren’t servicing a client, so 50% of nothing is nothing to either the stylist or the salon, its a lose- lose and there are still utilities, rent to be paid, dbl lose for the salon, Hmmm, how many salon owners really want that?
    I also want to point out that tips are income, plain and simple , I find that in our industry those stylists who are honest about their income include tips, those who don’t see tips as real money don’t.

    1. Shelly, you should read the posts I’ve written about the commission-only structure. You’re compensating WAY too much. 50% isn’t sustainable and it’s putting you and your business at a disadvantage.

      Most owners don’t understand how to staff the salon or market it properly (which results in stylists sitting around without clients to work on). Since they’re not paying the workers, they can do those things, but if they’re forced to be compliant with the minimum wage obligations, they have no choice but to do their jobs as owners (which means marketing the salon, staffing only the people their business can support, and definitely firing those who don’t perform well). I don’t think salon owners necessarily “want” that, so much as they believe they’re somehow entitled to the time of their employees for free.

      Lol, stylists who don’t report their tips are often sorely disappointed when they attempt to get a mortgage or a loan. Sort of hard to prove you’re creditworthy when 15-20% of your income isn’t reported.

  16. Hi, thanks for posting this information it will be very helpful to many of us. My question is this, as an hourly paid receptionist in a Salon that is commission only , am I suppose to be cleaning up after everyone, ( washing all implements, changing beds out for massage therapists etc..) on top of all of my job duties? They come and dump all this off on me, then go take a smoke break, get on face book or do whatever they want, while I’m running around like crazy!!

    1. If your employers says that it’s part of your job, then yes, you can be expected to do those things as long as you’re being properly compensated. It sucks to be burdened with additional work suddenly, so I highly recommend negotiating your job description prior to being hired. If you’re really doing a whole lot of excess work, consider asking your employer for a raise.

  17. Wow! I feel like this was written specifically about the salon that I work at. I have been at the salon I work at for 2 years. I have 42% commission which has worked ok. When I was first hired on they started me at 9$ an hour until my clientele was high enough to make a decent check then I switched over to the 42. From time to time though, I would have a slow paycheck and end up well below minimum wage when tips were taken out of consideration. I just turned the other way not wanting to be a bother. Then we hired on an esthetician who was required to work part time (3 8 hour days a week) but was making pitiful paychecks. Sometimes below 100$. This is a mom of 4 who has just made so little money, she is spending more money to go to work than she is making. Watching the salon let this happen and not market her (she even made her own promotion for them to send out since they wouldn’t make one and they still didn’t send it out) all the stylists took notice and it affects morale to watch your employer act unethical. Then we noticed that our commision wasn’t adding up to what we usually earned. Upon further investigation of our pay stubs, we noticed a new line. It was a backbar charge. We were now being charged backbar fees on products we used during services. This had never been done before and they did not notify us of this. Once again morale dropped and when we talked to them about it they tried to convince us that it wasn’t a pay deduction… like we are dumb. I can read a pay stub. I even told the owner id like what the deductions they were making were in writing to be signed to make sure we are both clear what’s happening. His answer was “we are a small enough business. We don’t need to do that. (Red flag) Finally the esthetician put in 2 weeks which upset them. She was going to ignore the lack of pay and make a clean break. Unfortunately, the owners decided to deduct parts of spa packages she had already sold that she wouldn’t be able to perform. This would make sense if she was making any decent income. This left her with a 48$ check and they told her she could pay them 50$ that she still owed them or she could leave them her paycheck. HOW CAN SOMEONE THINK THAT IS LEGAL?!?! We were all floored. Now morale is at absolute 0. This is insanity. It’s a shame to work somewhere for so long and then watch them lose all integrity in a matter of months.

    The esthetician has now started a wage claim against them. It will be interesting to see how it works out. Do you know if those investigations only look at the person who is filing against them or if they audit and take into consideration all employees? I haven’t filed because I would only file over unauthorized deductions however I didn’t think the possible money I would get back would be worth the drama. Like the esthetician, I just want a clean break. We will see if that is possible.

    1. The investigators will look at the salon owner’s records for all employees, past and present. So, you’re likely to end up with a check for all the unpaid wages and overtime (and the backbar fees).

  18. I just started at a new salon on a commission basis and the salon so far has done nothing to promote me or any of the services I can perform.

    So far I have spent at least 45 hrs a week at salon and done one of my private clients and a walk-in. My private client being more money. And did a service withyou own products that the salon does not provide for.

    So…if I am not an employee and I have to sit and wait for walk-ins which is not really happening. And I am thinking to do my own promotions for services that this salon dies not provide but me. What should I do about time. I don’t want to be in salon every day. And I want my clients all booked.

    1. You’re misclassified and the owner is not in compliance with federal wage laws if you’re not making at least minimum wage at the end of the pay period for each hour you were clocked in. Personally, I recommend corporate salons. They promote their businesses, they provide education, and most importantly, they don’t hire more people than they can afford to have on the schedule. Your situation sounds typical. You’re in a poorly managed salon.

  19. I love your posts because they are so informative, it makes me fight for my rights! Recently my boss threw away the labor laws poster that was in the break room, so I ordered us a new one, she doesn’t see it as important. This action has prompted me to relook into some questionable things the commission stylists deal with..

    The first, do small businesses have to follow the flsa standards? It’s about 7/8 stylists, with multiple front desk and apprentices. Though the owners think they don’t have to follow any laws because “no one else does”, “don’t sweat the small stuff”. I’m in Florida..

    The second being the big one.. Are commission only based stylists considered employees? My bosses constantly state that “lawyers are commission and they work over 40 hours a week all the time. They also don’t get lunches.” They don’t track their hours and will book stylists at 100% with no lunch breaks, these stylists are being engaged to wait even if they aren’t slam packed with clients sometimes 45/50 hours a week. One stylist had no appointments in 6 hours, stayed the whole day cleaning. Even if she did, it would be 36% commission because that’s what everyone but the owner makes(who makes more) due to product charges, overhead cost, and to pay apprentices and front desk. I get that commission has to be lower than 50 because salons need to make a profit to stay open and pay but does that seem right?
    I did get off topic though. I looked and it seems like we fall in with retail commission, I’m guessing, on the flsa page. I just don’t get why my boss thinks she can work us like “commissioned lawyers”, and what would be a good response next time she says that.
    Also, what is your opinion on unliscensed apprentices, some in school, some not, washing out color and doing services such as chemical(color, toners, monitoring clients with lightener in), blowouts for other stylists, or their own walk-ins, and things for weddings like updos. The clients don’t know they aren’t liscensed, and pay for all services. Sometimes, front desk has to wash guests and Blowdry. I read in the Florida state law page that looks a chart that unliscensed individuals can basically rinse non chemical service guests only. My boss says he has a training liscense to allow these stylists to do so, but the clients don’t know, they are paying the salon for these services, and he isn’t standing their watching them. It’s also not a teaching liscense he has and he doesn’t display it, and hasn’t shown any proof of it. I’m only asking because he says it doesn’t matter everyone does it, but my salon is split on if this is right or wrong to do.
    I’m sorry that is a lot, but if anyone knows, it’s you.

    1. Um, omg, your owner is a moron who seems to like inventing his own version of reality.

      1.) FLSA standards apply to all businesses in all states, period.
      2.) ‘No one else does,” and “We don’t sweat the small stuff,” are not suitable defenses in a court of law and will not hold any water with the federal government, who, I can assure you, consider wage theft and labor exploitation anything but “small.”
      3.) Commission-only based stylists are most certainly employees unless they are renters.
      4.) Lawyers are NOT “commission-only.” Who the fuck told him that? Some attorneys work on a variable compensation system where their salary is augmented by commissions, but that is not the same as “commission-only.” Employees are required to be compensated at least the prevailing minimum wage. Period. That certainly includes employees in high-income professions–particularly those who know their rights and how to sue employers who violate them…like lawyers. I’m curious as to what lawyer he’s referring to, because I know plenty and none of them work like that. Here’s one of those attorney people, talking about the practice he claims “all attorneys” are subjected to in the workplace…and how it’s illegal.
      5.) He’s required by federal law to track hours.
      6.) 36%? I try to keep payroll below 35%. (Generally, I shoot for 30%.) However, that’s achieved through lowering overhead, hitting a sweet price balance, and keeping protocols under control so services are delivered in a timely manner to ensure profitability. How he makes her ends meet is his own business, so long as he’s not illegally deducting arbitrary fines and fees from your paychecks. Then again, he’s committing wage theft by not compensating you legally, so there’s that.
      7.) His “commissioned lawyers” story is a myth. It’s bullshit. Tell him I said so. Nobody is going to attend law school, leave law school with that debt, and take a job without being paid legally. They’d be better off starting their own practice. In what world do these “lawyers” he’s invented have time to generate leads for their firms? What motivation do they have to do so? It’s ridiculous. Tell him to get his head out of his ass. It’s pathetic. I know it sounds like I’m being harsh here, but seriously, what the hell is wrong with him? He sounds like a fool. There’s no logic to his reasoning at all. For the same reason, his stylists have no incentive to work for him. Why would they when they can rent for themselves? Ugh, the stupidity is just astounding.
      8.) My opinion on unlicensed apprentices, especially in Florida, is that it’s fucking ILLEGAL. It’s against state board regulations. I live here too. Report him to the board. There’s no such thing as a “training license” in Florida–that’s yet another bullshit lie he made up. He has to be registered as a school through the state, and that process is extremely expensive and difficult. (I would know. I tried to establish one five years ago.)

      I seriously hate your salon owner. If I were you, I’d report them to the state board, to the IRS, and to the DOL. Our state sucks at taking care of employees, but the federal government and the state board would be on his ass. He needs to be punished for violating the board regulations, intimidating his workers, and misrepresenting the law.

  20. Hi I was just hired at a new salon as a commission only stylist, upon taking the job I was under the impression there was foot traffic. It’s been a week now and there have only been 2 clients total (for the entire salon) but at least 5 stylist working. I’m expected to sit there for 8 hours a day 5 days a week and “hustle” which is what the owner calls posting selfies on social media hoping for clients to drop from the heavens into the salon via Facebook. Is this just one bad week? Or to many red flags to stay around and see how it goes? The salon is beautiful and in an affluent part of town, they specialize in extensions and offer other services as well but I have bills to pay and I can’t pay them with $0.00 on my paycheck. What should I do?

    1. That sounds to me like way too many red flags. They can’t hire and staff people without clients. There’s no job to be done, so they should never have extended the offer to you. They’re legally required to compensate all of you, and with no money coming in, I don’t see how that owner plans to honor that obligation. If I were you, I’d get out and be far more discerning when evaluating potential workplaces in the future. I don’t think I have any posts on it here, but there’s a chapter in my book about thoroughly investigating potential workplaces–what to look for, what to ask, what policies and observations make it clear a salon isn’t a good work environment. If you have the book or know someone who does, I highly recommend reading that chapter in particular. A lot of professionals don’t realize that the interview process is a two-way street. Just as the employer is interviewing you, YOU are interviewing them. You should have standards and they should be pretty high. By and large, this industry is an employee’s market. Vacancies are plentiful and good employees are really hard to find, so you can afford to be selective.

  21. I am a part time employee of a nail salon. We get paid a straight commission. No benefits at all. We are required to stay and wait for an impending walk in that rarely happens. Usually there are one or two of us without a client, we would like our employer to allow one of to leave and go home, by taking turns. They are not agreeable to this, saying we need to be available for a walk in. We want to know if this is legal. From what I have read in your articles, they either have to pay us an hourly wage or let us leave. Is this correct?

    1. Yes. The only legal commission-only structure is commission vs hourly. Your paycheck at the end of the period must equal or exceed the prevailing minimum wage for the hours you’ve worked in that period, or the owner must make up the difference. Nobody works for free.

  22. Comment:
    Hi Tina,
    Your site is amazing, and you have helped me out on many occasions, so thank you.

    My questions: I’m interviewing at several places this week and want to make sure I understand the point you’re making about compensation. I’ve been doing massage for decades and have in mind that I need to ask for 50-60%. The highest I’ve ever gone is 50% and I have consistently heard that, with my experience, I need to ask for 60%. Are you saying that a spa owner should not go above 30-35% commission, or am I misunderstanding you?

    Also, in a recent interview, the owner wanted me to pay 1% for laundry, for every service. I thought that was just odd and wrong. Why should I, as an employee, pay for the use of products or a laundry service?

    1. This depends. First of all, if you’re being appropriately classified as an employee (not an independent contractor) and your employer is contributing to your taxes and deducting your portion appropriately, AND your employer set their prices correctly, then you should be getting paid a base wage PLUS commission bonuses. However, unless the salon owner has extremely low overhead expenses, that amount should not exceed 35% of gross sales because it’s a financially unsustainable arrangement. That’s when you have owners who try to pull wage theft tactics, like charging you for things they’re legally responsible for paying for, like laundry services. An owner who knows what they’re doing and knows how to maintain a stable business will offer you a reasonable compensation plan that will include a guaranteed hourly wage plus bonuses that are contingent upon performance. You see structures like this in every sales-based position (real estate, car sales, ect.). In those positions, the hourly rates are generally lower but their commissions more than offset that deficiency. The ones we’re seeing now in our industry have wages that range anywhere from $10-20 an hour (depending on the local economy) and bonuses that range from 3-15%.

  23. I find it hard to believe that you are advocating employee disloyalty and insubordination.
    I’ve been the owner of a successful, award-winning salon going on 11 years now. I run my business 100% by the book. My staff members work 35-40 hours per week and earn about 55-65K annually in commission, not counting another likely 7-10K in cash tips. I pay for the unemployment insurance, payroll taxes, rent, utilities, insurance, maintenance, products, etc. I shouldn’t expect them to help out? They should only be responsible for cleaning their own station? They shouldn’t have to “wait around?” Gimme a break!

    Tina, you of all people should know how expensive it is to operate a hair salon, and you should understand how razor-thin the margins already are.

    I’m all for fair treatment, and every employee should absolutely at least make minimum wage. But you sharp-shooting the labor laws doesn’t do anybody any good.
    My apprentices make $12 per hour, the minimum wage here is $10, going up to $11 in January. But when you come on your blog and attempt to “empower” hairdresser/employees with this type of rhetoric, it causes divisiveness, and only inflames an already delicate relationship between employers and their employees.

    My staff has absolutely no problem helping with the chores that are necessary to keep the salon running. But you tell hairdressers to “just say no?” What are you talking about? I guess I could hire 2 more assistants to sweep, answer the phone, etc., but at 35 hours each per week and a $10 minimum wage, that’s an extra $700 per week (not counting payroll taxes). Where should I attempt to get that money from?

    If you treat your staff right, there are no issues with them actually wanting to help out. With that extra 36K per year I could take the staff to several advanced education classes, which I’ve done several times in the past, rather than pay another person to sweep and dust.

    It seems to me you are insinuating that a majority of salon owners are shady, and take advantage of their staff. I don’t know if that is true, but I’m sure it goes on. It needs to stop, but you’ve painted with broad strokes here, and this kinda message can be taken the wrong way even by employees who are treated with the utmost respect and dignity. You know what danger lurks in the salon break room, don’t you?

    If you listen to yourself, you sound like a disgruntled employee trying to stage a walkout.

    I’ve had to terminate employees in the past, then they get a new job under-the-table, and collect unemployment off my account for 9 months. Seen it at least a few times, not to mention so many other dishonest, sneaky practices…stealing, accumulating client info to go rent a suite (which is even easier now with Facebook, twitter, etc). Bad-mouthing the salon on the street. Writing fake, negative reviews online. Deliberately clogging the sinks. Just to name a few.

    I run things so fairly and try so hard to do the right thing for my crew (and man is it expensive $$ to do things the right way) that I personally take strong offense to this entire post.

    1. If your employees are being paid, they’re not working for free. This post doesn’t apply to your salon or your employees. This post isn’t meant to cause divisiveness or harm the balance between anyone except employers who are exploiting their employees and employees who are being exploited. Since you’re not in that group, I don’t see why you’re taking offense as if you are.

      If your employees are properly classified, which I’m certain they are based on your pay structure, they’re obligated to obey you because you’re in compliance with the FLSA. So long as they’re being compensated and classified legally, that’s their obligation to you as their employer. That means you can tell them to dust, mop, scrub the toilets, and walk your dog—if they don’t like it, they have the option to forfeit their employment. That’s how gainful employment works.

      I’m not sure what your experience is, but in mine, a good deal of salon owners ARE shady and DO take advantage of their staff. It’s certainly not a secret and something a good deal of professionals who have spent any amount of time employed in this industry can attest to. Owners like you are a rare breed. It’s unfortunate, but until we start prioritizing business education in our beauty schools, it’s true.

      If I sound like I’m trying to stage a walkout, that’s because I am. Some owners—particularly those who exploit their employees and steal their wages—deserve to be walked out on.

      All those things you’ve listed that disgruntled employees have done to you, I’ve written articles against them all. Browse around. I don’t play favorites here. I call bullshit like I see it, regardless of who’s guilty. (I haven’t gotten around to writing one about cutting cords on styling appliances yet, but I’ve seen that happen too.)

      Again, I fail to see why you take “strong offense” to a post that has literally nothing to do with an owner who operates their business legally and ethically.

      1. I get offended because you portray the entire cosmetology industry as a nasty business full of dishonest, unscrupulous owners preying on the ignorance of their employees. Kinda like when Obi Wan told Luke at the beginning of the original Star Wars about Mos Eisley spaceport… “no where else in the galaxy will you find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Although it is true about Mos Eisley, it’s not true about the cosmetology business.

        When you perpetuate this victim mindset with members of our industry, it makes matters worse, not better. I’ve employed people that have thought they were being mistreated or ripped off, one way or another, even though they weren’t in any way, because they’ve been brainwashed, by blogs like this and by other hairdressers, that the boss, no matter what, is always ripping you off.

        We even used to send, and still do, each staff member to NYC once a year for advanced training, paying for the train, hotel, class, everything. And I found out later certain employees thought that there had to be a sneaky reason why we were doing this other than to help them develop. That’s the hairdresser mindset, told for so long they’re always getting screwed and abused that they don’t even know how to handle a healthy and good “relationship” (employer). We’ve done so many amazing things for our staff members over the years, and unfortunately most of it is not very much appreciated. We even took two staff members to Miami for a huge beauty show and advanced classes, had an amazing time, and they both quit 3 weeks later to rent a studio together, planned well in advance. And we’ve heard from clients through the grapevine they were telling other clients that they left because they were treated so poorly. Couldn’t be further from the truth.

        If someone is being (or thinks they’re being) cheated by their employer, why don’t they just quit? If staff are misclassified as independent contractors when they’re really employees, that’s definitely a problem, and it puts me at a competitive disadvantage. I think this is one of the bigger issues our industry faces, but don’t the hairdressers share some of the responsibility in a general sense? What I mean is that it wouldn’t happen if they didn’t let it.

        But rather than picking fights over the fact that your boss is “holding you in waiting” (by the way, successful people never complain about trying to build a business, that next walk in could turn into your next $2000 a year client). Look at successful real estate agents, car salespeople… they’ll wait hours for that next client. Just make sure if you worked 35 hours that week, your gross pay check is for at least $350, or whatever you state’s minimum wage is. Simple. If not, don’t stay in that abusive relationship. Quit. Let the market forces sink these shitty businesses because no one will work there.

        We all need to focus on raising the industry up. This whole industry needs to grow up! The bad salon owners I’m sure exist, I just don’t think the problems are as widespread and rampant as you portray them to be. You make our whole industry look like shit.

        1. You think hairdressers believe this because they’re told? You don’t think it’s possible that they may have experienced it themselves at one point or another (and another, and another)?

          The reason I write posts to inform employees of their rights and employers of their obligations is just what you said—those who take advantage of workers in this industry ruin it for all of us and have unfair competitive advantages. Hairdressers would share plenty of the responsibility if they had numerous viable options or were informed of their rights in school, which they aren’t. Instead they’re told that “commission-only is better for you,” and “you should be an independent contractor so you won’t have to pay taxes,” by educators, coworkers, and employers alike. Anyone with any knowledge on the subject knows for a fact that those arrangements are not in their best interest or the salon’s.

          Why don’t they quit? A lot of people in our industry have no option but to stay. Like I said, finding salon owners who do things legally and ethically is not easy. Additionally, many professionals are single parents and under-educated (meaning the highest schooling they’ve completed beyond high school is their cosmetology training). There aren’t many options available to them. When working for an owner who doesn’t compensate legally or classify properly (and maybe pulls product costs from the employee paychecks on top of all that), exploited workers literally can not afford to “just quit.”

          I completely agree with you that it wouldn’t happen if professionals would stand up and say “enough,” and that’s exactly why I work so hard to advocate for the education of both professionals and salon owners. You think I do this for fun? The way you speak about me makes me think you’re under the impression that I’m some gleeful shit disturber that does this as a hobby. Simply put: you could not be more wrong. This blog isn’t a place where a disgruntled professional bitches for fun—education and consulting are my job. I help owners get compliant, but I also help exploited employees get what they’re owed. “Just quitting” doesn’t inspire a bad owner to return the money they stole or reimburse the taxes they haven’t paid.

          We’re completely on the same page about the minimum wage compliance, which is the point of this post. So, to clarify, you’re saying that if professionals aren’t being paid or classified appropriately they should just quit. I’m also saying they should quit under those circumstances (that’s what the post is about). I’m still really confused about why you’re so upset, lol. I’m curious if this is the first post of mine you read. Because I get this a lot from owners who stumble upon one of my pro-employee post and assume I’m always pro-employee. If that’s the case, you need to do more reading. (All of those open in new tabs, btw. They’re my less pro-employee posts, lol.)

          When it comes down to it, I’m pro-compliance and anti-bullshit, and that goes for everyone in this industry. I do plenty of uplifting, but as a specialist in labor and employment grievances in the beauty industry, I can promise you that your rosy view of this business is misinformed. I recommend you do some “job hunting” in your area. Call up on some advertisements on Craigslist and see what other owners are up to. Ask if they’re ensuring prevailing wage compliance. Ask how they classify employees. Ask what deductions they take for product or head fees. Maybe read some comments on this post about how some owners have robbed thousands from their misclassified professionals.

          Those entitled, whiny pros you’re talking about? I’ve knocked them down a few pegs too. I do it pretty often, actually, but I’ll admit that I do hold employers to a higher standard. As business owners, we should be leaders and role models. You seem to feel the same way. However, in my career, I see a lot more of the industry than you likely do, and it’s getting better gradually, but we’re nowhere near where you think we are.

          Every day, I receive two dozen or so emails from workers and owners in crises, and generally, I can count on seeing at least 15 that fall into the “wage theft and misclassification” category, 5 that fall into the “I’m an owner and didn’t realize I wasn’t doing things legally” category, and a decent mix of “your information saved my business/my career.” So, while you may take offense to the tone of this post, the information in it is verifiable, even if it doesn’t coincide with your version of the industry. Honestly, you’re fortunate not to have been exposed to what so many truly exploited salon professionals have. If you had been, you’d be a lot less judgmental of those who struggle to trust their employers.

      2. OT…
        Tina, There definitely are systemic compliance and “honor” problems in the salon industry when it comes to owners, and employees and pros as well.

        It’s an “odd” business in that if the owner wants to run their business at a high level, it requires beauty professionals to be talented, mature, trained, well read (able to carry on an intelligent conversation), not nuts, and skilled in order to perform excellent services. But at the same time many hairdressers tend to be difficult to manage, often times young and immature, not career oriented, “grass is always greener-types,” shit stirrers, other times unreliable, and many times unappreciative and sneaky. Just calling it like I’ve seen it over the past 11 years.

        We’ve spent literally tens of thousands of dollars of bottom-line money over the years training current and past employees, and for the most part, in the end, it is not appreciated, and sometimes even thrown back in our faces in very creative ways.
        Humans are complicated creatures.

        Conducting business the “right way” is time consuming, complicated and expensive, but I feel it is worth it as I can look myself in the mirror and know that I’m doing everything I can to provide a job, and a career, where my staff can sustain their lives, pay their fair share of taxes (and us too) and we as owners can sustain our lives (very modestly haha).

        I (we’ve) been screwed over many times, and in many creative ways, by hairdressers, and all the while we’ve provided a safe, clean, law-compliant, drama-free (as much as is humanly possible in this business) very busy salon where the staff can make a good living. With salon suites now lowering the “barriers to entry” for starting a business, and further fragmenting the industry, and so many other salons popping up everywhere, we fight to retain and acquire every client, and our salon continues to chug along and generate amazing business.

        So it does go both ways, when (and I doubt it’ll ever happen) hair professionals actually collectively decide to actually start acting like honest, trustworthy, “true” professionals, and salon owners decide to do things by the book and act fair, compassionate, honest and with integrity towards their employees, the whole industry may, one glorious day, rise to the level we’d all like to see it at. I can dream, right?
        Keep up the good work you do, one step at a time I guess, you’ve got the right idea…

        1. I completely agree with ALL of this. Literally every single sentence, and I feel the same way about running our businesses the right way, even though it is more expensive and more complicated. I’ve long lashed out against the rental model for the same reason you stated—it’s fragmenting and destroying this industry, not just for salon owners and professionals, but for our professional manufacturers who are now having a harder time keeping their products in the hands of professionals because we’re becoming very difficult to distribute to. I wrote about all that here, if you’re interested. That post links to another really great post by James Hobart.

  24. I would like to know if you know what the laws allow in the state of New Jersey for a commission only stylist to take there clients somewhere else. I was told that we are allowed to change jobs if we choose but that we cant work within a 5 miles radius of our previous salon, Is this true? If so then that means we have to take any crap our bosses dish out, not everyone’s book will follow even if its within a few miles. Can you elaborate?

  25. Hi, I stumbled upon your blog when I was researching what I need to do for my taxes this year. I’m an immigrant and this is my first year working in the US, and paying taxes.
    My salon hired me back in April, and they were paying me $200/wk when I started out for doing a basic assistant job and shadowing them to “learn their way”.
    Since I realized they’re not going to pay me anymore or less than I make I have been just kind of sitting around unless I have a client. I have asked them if I can go to Starbucks or something quick during work hour, and have been told no because someone might call. I also couldn’t take any day off that wasn’t planned before I started working for the first year, so I only got the days the salon is closed, and my regular day off during the week. Im also not allowed to work on my usual day off and take a different day of the week off instead, because the salon is only open for half a day on my usual day off, and was told that’s not fair. They also told me I get 7 days of unpaid vacation time after my first year but no more. I’m from a country where the conditions to work in a salon is somehow worse than this believe it or not, so i wasn’t thinking too much into it, but when I started they told me I was contracted as an independent contractor, and advised me to save 15% of my income. Now I’m finding out I need to pay a total of about 30% for the taxes, for self employment tax and income tax. I didn’t want to get them in trouble but I do not have the money saved, nor do I want to pay that off throughout the year with interest on top of it. I don’t know what to do.
    They would always remind me how much they pay me and how I wouldn’t be getting paid as well if I worked anywhere else. Some weeks I make over $700, and some weeks $400. But that’s including my $100+ tips that I work hard to get. I did the math and after 30% tax, I make $11/hr, which isn’t a crazy good pay. They taught me a lot of techniques, and they were generally nice people. Now I feel betrayed, and think of all the times I could’ve taken off, like my anniversary, when I moved to a house, etc. that they didn’t let me off and I missed out on.

    1. If I were you, I’d file an SS-8 with the IRS. You were clearly not self-employed and shouldn’t be paying self-employment tax. Nice or not, they took advantage of you, and that was wrong. 🙁

      1. I’m wondering, is it possible that they genuinely had no idea that it’s illegal to treat someone as an employee but classify them as an independent contractor, or are they informed when they start a business??
        I wanted to give them the option of making it right and telling the IRS I was misclassified and pay for their share of the taxes, but not get them in deep trouble. if they don’t agree, of course, I’ll be reporting them.

        1. In my experience, they typically don’t understand the difference between the classifications. They’re often poorly advised by people who aren’t qualified to be advising their business operations (like bookkeepers with no real credentials in employment law). So, I always recommend approaching from the “they didn’t know” perspective.

  26. I hope you can help me. I am a commission based employee or hourly of $9. Whichever is greater. I have been a service provider for 15 years so of course I always make commission. We have 2 mandatory events per year. Everyone is required to be there. One is on a day the salon is closed, everyone’s day off. The other is on a weekday, it starts 30 minutes after my scheduled time to leave. It is mandatory that everyone participate. Everyone is assigned a role or service to perform on clients. So my concern is I am working for free because the hourly rate is void due to my commission for actually working. I hope I am making sense. Also mandatory meetings also I don’t get paid for those either. So basically the people that are busy with a high volume of clientele don’t receive compensation for these mandatory bullshit, the people actually making money for the salon. The people with no clientele get paid because they aren’t making enough commission. State of Virginia

    1. You should be clocked in for these mandatory events and those hours should be totaled and weighed just as your normally scheduled hours are. If the owner has you clocked in and is compliant with prevailing wage obligations, you actually are getting paid for being present even if you aren’t working on paying clients (because they’re ensuring compliance with prevailing wage and overtime regulations), so it doesn’t sound as if any violation is occurring.

  27. Hi Tina. I left a salon back in Oct of 2016 because I was being misclassified and mistreated. Now I feel the same thing is happening at the current salon I am working for. I started there with the understanding that I get 45% commission and I would be an employee of the salon, but since they could not pay me by the hour, I would not be required to sit there all day if I had no clients. I filled out a W-4 form, claimed no dependents, and get a W-2 at the end of the year. Well, I was basically lied to about the commission and the only reason I stayed was because it was going on 3 weeks without work. Come to find out if I book under $700 a week, I am only getting 38% and anything above $700 a week, I get 45% and I think anything higher than $1,000 I get 48%. Every salon I have ever worked for has given me 50% or more depending on how much I booked that week. To this day they have not taken any federal income taxes out of my check. The social security and medicare is taken out but never the federal taxes. I confronted one of the owners and he told me that I had to make $600 a week for them to start taking taxes out. I know that is total bullshit and was insulted that he thinks I am that stupid. I know if you make $600 or less in a YEAR, they do not deduct taxes and I told him this but he ignored me. On top of that they have not had a receptionist for quite some time now and depend on us to mind the desk and answer phones. One day I was told that he had to run some errands and that “it’s all mine”. I said what is all mine? He tells me “the front desk”. Another day they made one of the stylists take over the desk for like 3 hours because they had a wedding to go to. They told her not to take clients because they needed her at the desk (no pay btw) They made her close down the register and the computer when everyone was done. I am beyond frustrated with this place and I am not booking $700 a week. So I am always stuck at the 38% level and they don’t deduct taxes. So in reality, I’m only making 23%. What do I need to do regarding the taxes? Is there something on the W-4 form that my have been filled out wrong? Also I haven’t had a walk in for weeks and I am expected to sit and answer the phone. So I decided to just come in for clients already on my schedule and then I leave. The only reason I stayed is because I hate moving around in fear of losing clients.

    1. That IS total bullshit. Wow. When you file taxes–oh, you know what? I have a post for this. Go here and read this. File as if you were employed and send in an SS-8 form to have the IRS investigate. There is NO REASON you or anyone else there should be shouldering taxes they should be paying.

  28. I have a concern in regards to a very similar situation to this post.
    I have been at a salon in Atlanta for just over two years. I started out as an hourly employee coordinator, but was able to take clients as well in my down time.
    I started to notice that I had more taken out of my check when I worked with clients- but stupidly, didn’t look into it.
    Within the past six months almost year, we’ve been under new ownership, and the new owner kept up with the nonsense the old owner did. Let me explain.
    I am a “junior” stylist (with five years experience, mind you). I get paid commission only at 45% (that just increased from 40% around 5 months ago). My problem is that not only am I required to be here for my shift whether I have clients or not, everyone in the salon also has to pay “material charges”.
    What are these you ask? They are extra charges tacked on to my paycheck that I pay per-service. For example, a full foil is $6 from my pay, a men’s haircut is $2, etc. at he end of the week, these charges add up, and we receive an email telling us (the stylists) how much in “material charges” were removed from our pay, as WELL as credit card tip percentages that are taken out.
    I’ve done the math multiple times over the last half year, and have found that I’ve had over FIVE THOUSAND dollars taken from my pay in material charges alone- PRE-tax.
    What happens is that we get the email stating our commission pay, then the material fees are subtracted, then the credit card fees are subtracted, then we have a final number. That final number is what is the starting number on our paychecks.
    I have discussed this in passing with the new owner because she said she was going to change things. But it’s been almost a year, and jack has happened. I’m over getting robbed. Is this not literal wage theft? I may be getting 45% on paper, but I’m walking out making about 15% less than that.
    Not only would she owe me for the back “material fees” because if them being unreported and pre tax, but she’d also owe me the lost wages for sitting here and not getting paid for it while being required to clean, do laundry, etc.
    What is your expert advice? I’m at my wits end, she thinks it’s normal because this is the only salon she’s ever worked at, where I’ve been at two other salons in my career that didn’t do anything like this.

    1. That certainly does sound like literal wage theft. I highly recommend talking to someone at your state labor authority as soon as possible. Material fees shouldn’t be coming out of your wages.

  29. I work in a commission only salon that matches these descriptions to a T. I’m required to sit and wait even if I don’t have anybody, one employee is getting payed 1099, one employee is renting, and I only make 40% commission. On top of that 40% we have a produc few that is taken out, twice I think to be exact. We don’t have an assistant so the stylists who aren’t doing anything are required to answer phones, do laundry, etc to “help out”. All for free. I want to leave and I feel for the other stylists because we’re not being treated fairly by I also think the owner should be held accountable for what she’s doing. What is your advice to going about this?

  30. Hi, I am commission based but are expected to be there all day, clean, go out and talk to clients, pass out flyers, have dress code and do things her way. Salon owner has 3 permanent makeup artist including me and this is a very different scope of business as we don’t see clients every 2-3 weeks. We see them twice a year only plus it’s a tattoo so clients have to be persuaded and educated as opposed getting nails done or waxing. Salon owner is not advertising for us she wants us to go out there and talk to people. She is however advertising in social media for lash artist only and the lash artist is very busy. It’s a new salon just a week old and a new owner who doesn’t have experience. The salon is located in a busy area with high foot traffic hence why she wants us outside talking to people about our services or jump up from our seats like when someone walks in, just like cars salesman, except no one is getting paid hourly here. I want to stay because it has potential to be busy. Should I suck it up and continue there knowing there is high foot traffic? Or should I start looking elsewhere? I have been in permanent makeup industry for two years and I have spent so much money in education and have not seen a return at all even though I have a small clientele. At this point I think I am just desperate but I know desperate professionals can be taken advantage.

    1. She needs to be paying you legally otherwise she’ll have no incentive to ensure any of you are busy. If she’s paying you, don’t you think she’ll make it a priority to ensure you guys are generating revenue? You’re enabling her to continue to be lazy and you’re doing her job for her–FOR FREE. Stop that. Right now.

      If three of you aren’t making money, she didn’t have need of three employees. She needs to staff down immediately, compensate legally, and start promoting the services appropriately. Her current “strategy” hasn’t been effective. That approach is obnoxious and will never work for permanent makeup. She doesn’t understand the market. Until she does, things won’t change.

  31. Hi,
    I worked for years for a spa owner that gave us shifts unpaid waiting for a call to come in preform services. We weren’t required to be on site but needed to be within 20 minutes of shop in case of walk in. There was no compensation unless you were called in. I would go through days of not making any money but expected to ready from home if work came in. I live in Northern California. Is this legal?

    1. No. For that time to be non-compensable, you would need to be given sufficient time to pursue your own interests. You were limited to being within 20 minutes of the shop. That restriction on your movement makes it highly unlikely that it would meet the standard for uncompensated time.

  32. Is it legal for my employer to make continuing education mandatory if she’s also requiring us to pay for the class? I’m in Florida and my boss recently sent us a text saying there will be 5 mandatory classes next year that will cost us $99 each. I can afford to do maybe 2 but not all 5. I have searched and searched an I cannot find it in black and white

  33. I have a 3 decades+ commission salon. (50% commission) All stylists, therapists and technicians are properly classified as employees. We have group health insurance available and paid vacations for qualified personnel. in-salon education for CEU hours and other perks. All of my commissioned employees make well over minimum wage for the hours that they are scheduled to provide services, in the salon. In fact, most could spend a lot of “sit” time in the salon and still make well over minimum wage! I don’t make my stylists and technicians stay if they have gaps. I hire people to run my front desk and provide assistants to help the stylists, do surface cleaning, laundry, etc. After reading this blog post, I feel empowered! While I have enjoyed very little turn-over over the years, I always have a few commissioned employees who complain that they are not being compensated to attend quarterly salon meetings (1.5 hours), or attend and work a few hours at a salon event, a few times/year, without being paid, even though these events help build their businesses and maintain existing clientele. I had one employee ask me if they were being paid to attend an in-salon CEU class, which they are enjoying, free of charge! (I am certain that these employees think I am making-bank and you and I know that margins are thin. These are the few people that always stir the pot and influence others.) When assistants call in sick, or we have a slammed day, most of my commissioned employees will still just “sit” and stare at their phones, chat, or feed the backroom gossip channel, instead of pitching in. I would like to address this with my commissioned employees – that I have a right to ask them to help from time-to-time, because they are being compensated legally and fairly and they are, in fact, my employees, under my direction. How would you suggest approaching this so that I don’t upset the apple cart?

    1. I’d suggest a factual approach. The laws are clear–so long as they are clocked in and those hours are counting towards your prevailing wage and overtime obligations, they ARE being legally compensated. By law, they are obligated to obey you or forfeit their positions. That’s how employment works. They aren’t entitled to commission. They are EXTREMELY fortunate you’re able to afford such competitive commission rates and are willing to pay them so much, since they have invested and risked nothing, they need to recognize the salon’s money ISN’T “their” money.

      Still, I have some recommendations for you to implement moving forward.
      1.) For starters, immediately stop using the words “commission salon.” You are an FLSA-compliant “commission versus hourly” salon. It’s critically important to distinguish the difference.
      2.) You said you “help build their businesses.” Stop that. They don’t have businesses. They are employees at your business. When you use those terms and perpetuate the notion that they have businesses to “build,” you’re giving them the impression they are responsible for (and therefore entitled to) more than they are. The fruits of their labor do not belong to them. They don’t call the shots. They–again–have risked and invested nothing. YOU run the business. You build YOUR business.
      3.) Implement stricter management and more focused direction. If they’re sitting around, that’s a management failure salon owners like you and I only have ourselves to hold responsible for. It’s on us to make sure they’re on-task and doing their jobs. We are the leaders.
      4.) Take charge of that schedule and start being more deliberate and strategic in how you plan shifts. The salon should never have more employees than it has clients to justify. Either people need to be let go or have their hours cut until their client demand and retention rates are high enough to justify their presence.

      Your employees are exhibiting very typical behaviors I see in salons run by owners who are too nice. (Usually these owners were or are professionals themselves, so they give far more than they should and take more abuse than is acceptable.) Stop allowing them to feel as if they have ownership over the business. There’s a difference between creating an environment where employees feel valued, listened to, and like their contributions are recognized and one in which the employees feel empowered to hold the owner hostage. Sometimes, these conversations need to be had in a blunt manner so you don’t run the risk of employees hearing what they want to hear. That may mean very deliberately kicking that apple cart.

  34. I’ve been on commission based pay for 4 1/2 years. My boss has said from the beginning ‘you either get commission or hourly’. If you are on hourly you are expected to do all the ‘bitch work’. I understand we all need to take turns sweeping and things like laundry but being on hourly she makes us feel like we have to be doing something every second of the day. As well as helping her with social media, taking pictures for her website and creating emails to send out to all clients. There were plenty of paychecks that were really slow and plenty of weeks where I was working over 40 hours. We have two new girls and I worry for them because they are just out of cosmetology school and I know they will choose hourly or they will leave. For awhile she was charging us for product usage for everything. We don’t get lunch breaks or even breaks. When asked about it or anything she says ‘This is how it has always been in the beauty industry, salons don’t stop for lunch or bathroom breaks. My mom worked like this for 30 years’. I haven’t said anything because I didn’t know my rights but I want to say something for myself and for the other girls working here. Thank you for the info and I hope for more posts!

    1. “This is how it has always been,” is not a valid or acceptable excuse. She’d never be able to successfully argue that in front of the IRS or any labor authority. I wrote an article here about why salon owners need to get their shit together and recognize that ignorance of the law will not excuse them from compliance.

      Before you talk to her, read this article, where I explain how to prepare for that discussion and how to conduct it. Those tips might make it easier for you–but with owners like that, rational discussion tends to be impossible. They usually just want to keep exploiting people for their own gain.

  35. I feel like if I present this to my boss he will fire me. Not only are we forced to work a schedule as 1099’s do laundry, play shampoo girl, unpack product, etc, we have to do free services on the receptionists friends, the freelance makeup artist we use for on location weddings and take a hit on the people my boss has set pricing for that’s discounted and we are not paid the difference. I still have to file my taxes and I feel as if I need to file as misclassified also figure out how to somehow deduct all the free services he makes me do on people!! That’s my time and I make zero dollars on that service. It really pissed me off!!

    1. If you file an SS-8 with the IRS, you’re likely to be determined to be an employee, which means you’ll be eligible for all the protections granted to employees. So, if you’re fired as a result of bringing up these abuses of the law, that would be considered retaliation and the termination would be deemed unlawful. The IRS and DOL would work to ensure you get your wages and taxes back, and the EEOC would punish the employer for the wrongful termination. Basically, he’d be an idiot to “fire” anyone he doesn’t legally employ, especially since he’s in violation of federal tax and labor laws currently.

  36. I own a salon and have been trying to make my employees happy. So I pay my girls a base pay plus commission. I started this last January it is a sliding scale commission. Well 3 quarters into this I am recalculation my books. These girls are low performing girls they only do about $400.00 in services a week they don’t promote themselves, they are lazy don’t clean and have re-do’s all the time. They take there time when doing the cut so that $25.00 cut the salon makes about $5.00 off of its been a mess. The other 2 stylists that bring in over $1,000 a week are paying for them to be here. I am at my wits end of trying to come up with a compensation to pay these people that really don’t try and collect a check. They call off all the time so then they make there commission because they only worked a couple of days. This pay is about 64% after figuring it out they are actually getting paid more than the top stylist yes they have a smaller check but paying them hourly for doing nothing is crazy. I came up with something better give them a salary equivalent to minimum wage cut the hours until you know you can pay them and do a commission scale that way you know that they are still getting a check its legal and they have to work to earn more than minimum wage. Mose of these girls only earn about $9 an hour due to their poor performance. If minimum wage goes up in our area these girls will be without a job cause the other salons in our area only pay 50% commission only not sure how they get away with it since it is completely illegal but everyone in my area said I was crazy the way I pay my girls. Just trying to keep and maintain them but about ready to cut the cord…….open to other suggestions on low performing stylists.

    1. I recommend buying my Compensation and Pricing Megakit. It will allow you to plug in your costs and service times and will calculate compensation rates for you. It also contains a ton of information about how to reduce labor costs, make services more efficient, and cut dead weight from your team (all of which sound extremely necessary in your situation). If you’d like to schedule a consulting appointment, you can do so through my online booking system at

  37. So I just started in a chain salon and we are paid %50 commission and I thought when I took the job we will be paid hourly vs commission. Well I just got paid commission and not hourly. I work in Chicago. The minimum wage is 13 an hour. If I do a service for 70 I get 35 but that’s all and I work 6 hours a day. should be getting 78 Instead. Someone that works for the company said when you do no clients that’s when you get your hourly for the day. So if I do a service I will be getting only commission for that day and no hourly. So if I do a a haircut for 30 I will be only paid 15 for the whole day. Is this right? Oh should I report them ? And where would I find the forms? Thank you

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