It seems we’re holding everyone responsible for their actions, using the power of social media to publicly shame shameful people. Abusers, harassers, racists, thieves, and those who treat service workers like trash are no longer safe in their assumption that their crimes will only be remembered for as long as the witnesses talk about it. No longer will they remain cocooned in the relatively anonymous nature of their physical descriptions. People cannot play the role of “the woman at JCPenney who cursed out the cashier,” or “the old man who shouted racial slurs at a woman at the park” and walk away without consequences. Their crimes and abhorrent behaviors are recorded, uploaded, shared, swiftly attached to their real names, etched in digital stone, and woven into the potentially eternal fabric of the internet.
When are beauty workers going to start naming and shaming those who exploit them in the workplace?
Salon owners, before we continue let’s have a chat. You’re probably not going to like what you’re about to read. As a salon owner myself, I get that. Please understand that exploitative salon owners hurt our businesses by creating an atmosphere of unfair competition. Those of us who compensate and classify our employees legally incur far more costs than those who steal from their professionals and evade taxes.
If you aren’t intentionally exploiting your professionals, this post isn’t about you so you have nothing to be offended by. If you are, please DO take offense. You deserve it.
Professionals, I need answers from you. Why don’t I see you on Instagram, posting pictures of the $60 paycheck you brought home in exchange for 80 hours of your time? Where is your Facebook post about how your so-called employer doesn’t deduct or remit taxes but does deduct 20% from your paycheck for “product fees?” Where are your Snapchat stories, explaining and displaying the insane contract you were asked to sign? Where are the Tumblr videos of you confronting the salon landlord who unlawfully changed the locks to your suite and refuses to return your tools and equipment to you? Where are the screenshots of the abusive text messages from the employer who fired you for asking for reasonable accommodation?
When will we demand that those who steal your wages, misclassify you to evade taxes, and deny you your rights be held accountable?
- Wage theft is the largest form of larceny in our economy, accounting for more than the $13.6 billion we lose each year due to other forms of theft (like burglary and vehicle theft).
- By paying less than the legal minimum wage, employers steal an estimated $15 billion every year. This singular form of wage theft alone exceeds the estimated $14.7 billion lost annually to shoplifting.
- Nationally it is estimated that workers are not paid at least $19 billion every year in overtime and that $40-60 billion is not paid due to all forms of wage theft.
You can (and should) report wage theft and misclassification to the Department of Labor, the IRS, and/or state agencies, but do so with the knowledge that you’ll likely be waiting a long time for your case to be resolved, and that in an estimated 83% of the cases, even businesses that lose the dispute never paid back any wages. Sometimes, you have to seek your own justice, but do so the right way, lest you find yourself in the defendant’s chair learning a harsh lesson about defamation.
1.) Know your rights. Don’t embarrass yourself by making demands before you understand what you’re legally entitled to (and what you aren’t).
2.) Keep detailed records and evidence to support your claim. Before you make a statement, you need to be able to verify it. Keep your own records. Log your hours, sales, and tips. Keep those records somewhere safe—either on your phone or at home.
3.) Have an adult conversation first. Many owners in our industry have no idea that they’re breaking laws. Don’t assume intent. Follow the steps in this article and speak with someone before you put them on blast. Assume ignorance and give the owner the benefit of the doubt until it becomes clear they don’t deserve it.
I absolutely do not recommend outing a salon owner until you’ve given them an opportunity to explain themselves to you first.
If you don’t have the spine to have that conversation with the salon owner, leave this article immediately and forget about launching that smear campaign—you aren’t mature enough to be holding anyone accountable for anything.
4.) Be aware of the consequences. Before you move forward, ask yourself if you’re ready to be fired, because you very likely will be (so have a plan to file a retaliation complaint).
You should also keep in mind that you will be exposing a bad employer in a very public way and that other employers in your area will most definitely hear about it. However, if you’re truly not willing to tolerate exploitation and unlawful employment arrangements, the fact that your actions will cause other bad salon owners to blacklist you shouldn’t be a problem. (You may actually catch the attention of ethical salon owners in your area who would love to have you.)
Expect to be served with a cease and desist letter.
Cease and desist letters are not court orders. Understand that a cease and desist letter is nothing more than a scary looking notice sent by the other party’s attorney, designed to intimidate you into doing what the other party wants. Essentially, they say, “Stop doing what you’re doing, or else…”
The letter should have legal merit, but it may not. Consider it a cautionary notice—a threat that may not be fulfilled—especially if the person who sent it doesn’t have the tiniest bit of actual legal leverage. The language within the letter may sound official. You will likely be accused of committing some crime (through carefully-worded insinuations), but an accusation or insinuation isn’t a conviction. The other party will have to prove that you committed a crime in court, which will be difficult at best if you haven’t actually done so.
A “whistleblower” is an employee who reports a violation of the law by his or her employer.
Read up on the defamation laws in your state. Generally, for a defamation claim to stand, the accused must have malicious intent and/or the accusations made against the other party must be false. As a general rule, if you are telling the truth, you are not committing defamation. Additionally, defending your civil rights (which include your employment rights) and questioning or speaking out against unlawful employment practices is often considered protected speech under the NLRA and a variety of other whistleblower protections.
5.) Never lie, strategically omit information, or exaggerate your claim. When you’re calling attention to someone’s unlawful or shameful behavior, your credibility is everything. All of your arguments become invalid the second you’re caught lying or stretching the facts. Stick to the truth.
THE BURDEN OF PROOF RESTS ON THE SHOULDERS OF THE ACCUSER.
If the other party accuses you of defamation, they will have to prove you are lying. Similarly, you must be capable of proving they actually committed a crime against you. Save those receipts and never say anything you can’t prove with actual evidence. For example:
Defamation: “My boss stole $10,000 from my paycheck this year and violated prevailing wage laws, but I don’t have proof.”
Not Defamation: “My boss stole $10,000 from my paycheck this year. Here is the offer letter showing my compensation agreement. Here are the paystubs showing the deductions that prove that my pay routinely fell below the prevailing minimum wage. These are the statutes that were violated. Here are screenshots of her text messages admitting she took the money and will never give it back.”
6.) Keep calm, keep it short, and stick to the facts. If you choose to proceed, let me do you the favor of telling you that nobody wants to hear your whole life story. Nobody cares about how you met the owner, what you think of how she dresses or manages the business, how the vein in her forehead throbs when she’s mad, how you became a professional, or any of the other minute and completely irrelevant details you believe add flavor and context to your story. None of that matters. You aren’t trying to persuade anyone to pity or like you.
No matter how angry or distraught you are, Leave your emotions out of it.
Follow this format:
[YOUR NAME] [YOUR POSITION] [YOUR TENURE] at [SALON NAME] [SALON LOCATION]. [OWNER/SALON NAME] [ACCUSATION]. [PROOF/STATUTE]. [YOUR DEMANDS]. [TAGS AND HASHTAGS]
My name is June Whistleblower. I worked as a stylist for three years at Fictional Salon in Faketown, Fakestate. The owner of Fictional Salon, Suzie McFakeface:
- unlawfully deducted and withheld $13,225 of my wages for “product costs” (in violation of state law 38.3948),
- misclassified myself and my coworkers as independent contractors when we are very clearly employees (in violation of both state and federal employment classification laws),
- paid myself and my coworkers “commission-only,” and did not guarantee prevailing wage or overtime compliance (in violation of state and federal wage laws).
I sent Ms. McFakeface an email about the violations with links to the statutes on Wednesday, June 25th. After speaking with Ms. McFakeface privately on Friday, June 27th, she refused to pay and fired me. She has since sent several threatening text messages, after I repeatedly told her to stop contacting me.
I’ve attached images of my employment agreement, pay stubs, sales reports, the email sent on Wednesday, and the text messages to prove my claim.
I demand that Ms. McFakeface immediately repay the wages she stole from me and that she cease stealing the wages of her current employees. Customers and beauty professionals in the Faketown area need to be aware that Suzie McFakeface at Fictional Salon has been (and apparently plans to continue) stealing from and exploiting her employees.”
Your real power lies in your tags, hashtags, and shares. Tag relevant people, pages, and organizations. Hashtag relevant topics. Share your post to relevant groups and other places where it will be seen by people who matter (like local employee rights organizations and labor authorities).
@[local news channel], @[local news station], @departmentoflabor, @[state attorney’s name], @[local employment law firm], #[city/town] #workersrights, #wagetheft, #employmentlaw
Don’t let your narrative go off the rails. Don’t make legal threats or personal attacks. Facts > Evidence > Demands. Do not stray from the formula or you’ll risk a.) seeming petty or unstable, and b.) committing defamation.
Wage theft has frequently been referred to as “the crime wave that almost nobody talks about.” Let’s change that.
Let me put this bluntly: YOU ARE BEING STOLEN FROM. Your rights are being violated. These practices are an actual epidemic in this industry and will continue to create toxicity that poisons the entire profession. Stop allowing yourself to believe that you don’t matter and that you don’t have the power to make change. YOU ABSOLUTELY DO. You have every legal right to demand that your employers comply with the laws that protect and defend your wages and freedoms.
Where is your outrage? What are you afraid of?
I receive thousands of emails, comments, and messages from beauty workers every year.
I read and reply to every one of them. For nearly a decade, I’ve been pushing professionals to take action, but very few are willing. What most professionals are doing right now (tolerating it quietly, complaining to their friends, and never filing/following up on complaints) isn’t working.
Frankly, I’m tired of the excuses. People seem to have all the time in the world to complain about the abuses they suffer, so don’t tell me you don’t have time to complain to the people who need to hear it or to bring the issue to the attention of the public and demand someone answer for what they’ve done to you.
“But I need a job…”
You sure do, but I would argue that nobody needs a job where their wages are being stolen and their rights are being violated. Recognize that by accepting these practices you are endorsing them. You are allowing them to continue and are therefore complicit in your own exploitation and the continuance of crimes that harm everyone in this business. If you truly want the industry to become a better workplace for everyone, accept the fact that you are not above working in other industries while you’re looking for a legal employment arrangement. I love this business and the thought of working in a different industry doesn’t appeal to me either, but I have more pride and respect for myself than to tolerate a salon owner who believes they’re entitled to steal from me for their own gain.
Quit allowing yourself to be used.
These practices have fractured our industry, contributing to the delegitimization that makes it all too easy for legislators to dismiss us and deregulate our professions. So, I’ll ask you again—WHERE IS YOUR OUTRAGE?
Professionals, if you want to see change happen in the industry, make criminal salon owners scared of you. Terrify them with your education and your fearlessness. Refuse their job offers, challenge their illegal practices, hold them accountable by filing reports and sharing their shameful actions with the public.
Bring these practices out of the shadows and force these owners to explain themselves to their family, friends, and customers.
We have tried playing nice. Change won’t happen on its own. We have to make people uncomfortable. We have to apply pressure. We have to talk to the media, talk to the public, and stop being complicit ourselves. Ask questions. Demand answers. Stop giving those who victimize you a free pass.
Have you ever filed a complaint against an exploitative salon owner or held them accountable some other way? Did you speak to the media (or social media)? What happened? Tell us about it in the comments!