You’re Fired: How to Terminate a Salon Employee

She seemed great during the interview, but it’s becoming clear that this particular professional is beyond any help you can give her. Maybe she’s too slow, too inexperienced, or too unreliable. Perhaps she’s toxic and causing problems with the other employees. Maybe she’s received one client complaint too many this month.

Whatever the reason, some employees just don’t work out. I’ve fired a legion of them, so I’m sort of an expert at it. Here are my tips for preparing for those difficult discussions, following through in the least traumatic and disruptive way possible, and deftly handling the aftermath.

1.) Know your rights.
So, there’s this article I wrote a long time ago that’s sort of a big deal. You might have even read it at some point–lots of professionals have. By chance, have you read the comments on that article? (There are a ton of them.)

If not, let me sum up about two dozen of them for you:
“The salon owner fired me but I just realized I wasn’t actually an employee. She misclassified me as an independent contractor but controlled me like an employee. She should have been paying my employment taxes this whole time and technically, she couldn’t fire me because I wasn’t her employee. What do I do? Isn’t that illegal?”

Yeah, it’s likely illegal. If a salon owner tries to fire a misclassified “independent contractor,” they’re probably going to find themselves in serious legal trouble if/when the court realizes they’ve violated federal tax and labor laws–ESPECIALLY if the salon owner had the contracto sign a so-called “non-compete agreement.

Before you “fire” anyone, you better make sure they’re actually employees and that you’re compliant with all applicable tax/labor laws.

I don’t have actual statistics on this, but the vast majority of salon professionals who contact me for advice on initiating wage theft, misclassification, and other lawsuits do so immediately after they’re fired. All those little injustices they tolerated while employed suddenly become top priority to punish. Scorned employees go hard, so if your business isn’t right–you’re not compensating them legally, unlawfully skimming their tips, charging them fees for product, or doing any of the other common abuses salon owners do–they can and will bring all kinds of hell down upon you (…and I’ll point them to people who will help them do it).

As a business owner, you have legal obligations to the workers you employ. If you’ve failed to meet those obligations, your employees hold the detonator to a nuclear bomb strapped to your chest–and you gave it to them.*

2.) Be decisive.
Now is not the time for cold feet or procrastination. Don’t second-guess yourself. You should know whether or not the employee’s time is up. For me, the majority of the time those decisions are mathematically-based. Sometimes, it’s because the employee has clearly broken one of the terms of employment they agreed to abide by at the time of hiring (one I can point to in the employee handbook).

You don’t owe anyone the gift of employment.

Your job is to grow and protect the business. If someone is hindering that mission, they have to be let go. End of discussion. Every day you allow a problematic employee to continue working at your business, you give them countless opportunities to hurt that business.

3.) Tell no one.
Keep your intentions to yourself. I don’t care how inappropriately close you are to your employees–they do not need to know. Don’t allow the employee in question to discover their termination prematurely from a third party. They deserve to hear first and they deserve to hear it from you directly.

4.) Write a letter of recommendation.
The best way to open up a termination discussion is to give a great letter of recommendation. Type it out, fold it up, and put it into an unsealed envelope with the employee’s last paycheck. Be sure to include your contact number and email address.

Don’t say anything bad about the employee or the conditions under which she left your establishment. Detail her strong points and don’t mention her weaknesses. You don’t want to sabotage any professional’s ability to find future employment.

Just because the employee didn’t work out in your salon doesn’t mean she won’t at another.

5.) If you can, terminate the employee in private after everyone else has left for the day.
Unless the employee has done something serious that requires immediate termination (theft, assault, etc.), terminate them after closing. Hold that termination meeting in the privacy of your office.

You never know how an employee will respond to being terminated. Some get pissy, others rage, and a few will get emotional and cry. You don’t want that kind of tension in the salon, especially if clients are present–and honestly, it’s cruel to do that to the departing employee. The worst part of being terminated unexpectedly is having to keep yourself together and collect your belongings while everyone else is working on the floor.

Allow the terminated employee to retain their dignity.

During the termination meeting, be sure to discuss how the clients are to be divided. If your employee signed a contract restricting client contact, remind them of this. If they did not, there is likely nothing you can do to stop them from contacting clients. Whatever the case, be an ethical owner. Let the departing employee know that if her loyal clients ask for her contact information, you will give it to the clients freely.

Stand by your word.

6.) Help them pack up.
Have some boxes in the back so you can help your ex-employee pack up her belongings. Not only is this a nice thing to do, it’s a good way to make sure the employee doesn’t forget anything…and that they don’t steal or damage anything.

Never allow a terminated employee to leave things behind. All of their belongings must go out the door with them on their last day. You don’t want to have a sheriff show up at the salon and inform you that the employee has accused you of stealing her tools through conversion. You also don’t want that employee to return for items and disrupt the salon during business hours.

Make a clean break.

7.) Be honest.
If the employee asks why they’re being terminated, have a list of legitimate reasons why. You’re not required to disclose why, but you should. This will help the employee become a better employee, and hopefully keep them from repeating the same mistakes in the future.

Generally, when I’ve fired people, they’ve known exactly why before the meeting because I utilize a progressive disciplinary policy. By the time they’re in my office for that final meeting, we’ve already discussed the problematic behaviors at least once previously. If you don’t have a progressive discipline policy (or an employee handbook outlining your expectations), put those together immediately.

It’s ridiculous to penalize or terminate a person who doesn’t understand your expectations of them.

Employees are not mind readers–and if you’ve been a human being on this planet for any period of time, you’ve already learned that what is considered “common sense” is subjective. (For example, I think it’s “common sense” that employers have contracts, handbooks, and progressive discipline policies, but I’m finding that many salon owners, for whatever reason, seem to think they’re as unnecessary as compliance with federal and state tax/labor laws. Get your shit together, please.)

8.) Prepare to lose a few clients.
Some people are going to follow their beloved beauty professional. That’s just the way it is. Don’t try to stop those clients or hinder them from finding your ex-employee. If you know where the ex-employee is working, tell the clients who ask for that information. If you don’t, give the clients the ex-employee’s personal contact information if that employee gave you permission to do so.

Be helpful. Be professional. Be an adult.

Clients don’t appreciate being lied to or manipulated, so you’ll likely lose them anyways if you don’t. By being honest, you’ll keep the clients’ respect and the respect of your prior employee. There’s a good chance that client may not like the employee’s new salon and will return. Don’t allow yourself to look stingy, immature, and insecure.

Clients have the right to choose where and on whom they spend their money.

9.) Keep your mouth shut and ensure the employees do too.
Employees and clients may ask you why the employee was terminated. Never tell them. It’s none of their damn business and you don’t owe anyone an explanation other than the employee you terminated. (If you live in an at-will employment state, you legally don’t even owe the terminated employee an explanation.)

Those employees and clients are digging for gossip, a practice you’re certainly too much of an adult to participate in. Plus, you’re a busy salon owner.

You have actual work to be doing and explaining your management decisions for the entertainment of others isn’t part of it.

Respond politely, but make it clear that the topic isn’t up for discussion. My go-to response is, “It wouldn’t be appropriate or respectful of me to share that information. It’s regretful that the arrangement didn’t work out, but we wish him/her the best. I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate us talking about it, so let’s not.”

If the employees are talking about it, remind them in very clear, stern terms that it’s not to be discussed. This is important for several reasons.

  • First, your remaining employees will see that you respect the people you employed. Should they resign or be terminated, they know you won’t allow them to be the topic of the week.
  • Secondly, it’s absolutely childish and unprofessional for the employees to be gabbing about company affairs they have nothing to do with, especially in front of clients.
  • Finally (and this is very applicable if you live in a small town), this is not news you want broadcast all over the place. If clients are going to be speaking of your business, it should be about the great customer service and the talented professionals. Anything that distracts from that isn’t beneficial and should be highly discouraged.

10.) Never lower yourself, even if the ex-employee does.
Should the terminated employee be the one to stoop so low as to trash talk you or the salon, don’t allow yourself to be baited.

The only instance in which it’s acceptable to respond is when the employee is doing something verifiable (read: able to be proven with solid evidence; not hearsay) to damage the salon’s reputation or harass you personally. Solid evidence may include text messages, emails, social media communications, or a rant on a platform where potential and existing clients are certain to see it (like an online review site). For an employee’s actions to be punishable, they have to be criminal.

  • Harassment and threatening behavior are criminal behaviors.
  • Libel (a published false statement intended to hurt your reputation or the salon’s reputation) has to be false to be criminal, so if the ex-employee’s angry rant is true, you can’t do anything about it.

How do you respond in those instances? For harassment, you call the police. For libel, you call a lawyer.

You do not “vent” to clients or employees–ever.

Clients and employees can’t do anything for you. When you’re emotional or stressed, you could say something stupid and damaging to yourself and the business. Just don’t. Keep it between you and the lawyers/police.

Every salon manager’s goal is to transition the employee out of the salon as smoothly and with as much civility as possible. Some employees will make that impossible, but you can’t control the actions of others. You, as the authority figure in the salon, must maintain your composure. Unlike that employee you fired, you have to continue to show your face in the salon, so don’t do or say anything you’ll regret.

This article is a revised and updated version of an earlier post. It was originally published to this site on September 12, 2012.

I hope you found this post helpful! Have you ever fired an employee? Were you fired? How did it go? Do you have any tips to add? Tell us about your experience and what you learned in the comments. If you’re interested, you can buy my book, The Beauty Industry Survival Guide here.

*That’s a bad ass quote, right? I heard it somewhere a few years ago in one of the bagillion articles I’ve read about misclassifying employees, but I can’t remember who said it or where I found it. Basically, I can’t take full credit for that line. The original was something like, “If you misclassify your employees as independent contractors…something something…detonator to a bomb…something…and you handed it to them. –Some attorney or tax expert guy whose name is Robert or Bob, maybe?” So yeah, if you think you’ve heard that quote or something similar before, it’s because you likely have. If I find that article, I’ll link it in the text of the quote. It was a good one about the consequences of laziness and dumbassery!

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Tina Alberino
Tina Alberino
Beauty industry survivalist, salon crisis interventionist, tactical verb-weapon specialist, and the leader of at least a hundred workplace revolutions, Tina Alberino is known as much for her extensive knowledge as for her sarcastic wit and mercilessly straightforward style. She’s the author of The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and Salon Ownership and Management: A Definitive Guide to the Professional Beauty Business. When she’s not writing, educating, or consulting, she can be found overthinking everything, identifying problems people didn’t know existed, and stubbornly working to change the things she cannot accept.

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  1. Thank you so much Tina! After working for some terrible bosses, I have opened my own small shop. I have one employee and I love your guidance! My biggest goal as a salon owner is to be a fair one!

    • It is a service pricing guide, not a payroll guide, so there are boxes to account for and estimate annual state and federal payroll taxes that are then automatically accounted for in the pricing, but because employees each claim different exemptions and have different tax rates, there’s no way to calculate those broad variations in this spreadsheet. (For that, you’ll need a payroll accountant. I’m not willing to take on that liability and since it so far exceeds the scope of the toolkit, it’s not a functionality I’ll be adding.) I also only briefly touch on taxes, since this kit is meant to be internationally compatible. For specific tax guidance, I advise everyone to speak with tax professionals who know the laws and regulations in their state/city/country, because the variations between each are insanely different and change often.

  2. If I work in a beauty business under a self contractor situation but there was never any contracts signed when I started working there almost 3 years ago. Can the owner terminate me and I just have to leave or do they have to give me 30 days notice and evict me. I rent a suite by a weekly rate in the state of Iowa.

    • It depends on your lease terms. Since you lack one, you’ll have to check to see if the state of Iowa has any commercial landlord/tenant laws. Most states do not. The majority of the time, courts rely on contractual agreements to settle disputes in these instances.

  3. Great article. But I don’t know about the point about writing a letter of recommendation for a under performing employee. That sounds like a total cop-out for the person doing the firing. I wouldn’t risk my personal reputation to say how great a crappy employee is. If I was asked for a reference I’d be straight up honest with the good and the bad.

    • The problem with “honest” references is that you are restricted to saying only what you can verify, otherwise you’re committing defamation and can be sued. So while you can be honest, it doesn’t benefit anyone to attempt to keep an ex-employee from being able to find work. If you feel it’s appropriate, highlight the ex-employee’s positive qualities in the letter and save the negative stuff for the phone call you get from the next person to interview them. When you get that call, stick to those things you can prove with tangible evidence. If she’s chronically late, you can verify that with records. If she’s slow on service times, you can verify that as well. If she received a lot of negative reviews from clients, they’re available for anyone to see online. If she had to be repeatedly disciplined for handbook violations, you should have evidence from your progressive disciplinary records.

      Anything negative aside from things that can be proven should be omitted.

      That said, nothing in your letter of recommendation should put your reputation at risk, so long as everything contained therein is also true.

  4. I once had a tech who stole money from me. I told her she could work off her debt or be fired and I’d report her to the police. She chose to work off her debt, which was fine because the clients had no idea, and enjoyed having services with her, however, she also tried to use me as a reference when applying to other salons, which I thought was hilarious.

    I never told any of her reference checkers why she was no longer employed with me, only the dates she worked for me, and I think my lack of detail was enough to let them know that she might not be the best person for the job.

    • Okay, so first of all, I miss you. While I don’t miss Facebook at all, you’re one of five people whose faces I miss seeing every day. <3

      Secondly, you did the right thing. The last thing any employer wants to deal with is a disgruntled ex-employee pursuing them for trying to prevent them from getting hired.


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