Solving the Beauty Industry’s Accountability Problem

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?

Audio Version

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.


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:


For example:

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!

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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. Bravo! When I started in the industry I worked for what came to be one of the shiftiest people I have ever encountered. I managed to get out (and continue to struggle, but I got out) before it got worse but former associates/friends of mine were left stranded when things finally caught up via the IRS and liens and the doors were shuttered with no notice. I’m appalled at how some places run (I also worked in a resort spa…) and while it’s a roller coaster, I am now finishing my first year as a business owner with my own skin studio. I do not regret it for a minute.

  2. Tina, brilliant piece as usual! The model of addressing injustice that you present is so helpful, not just for our industry, but for any situation in life. Thank you for doing what you do!

  3. We give between 1500-1600 hours of our lives just to get licensed. And then to work in an industry that undervalues it’s own services. It doesn’t make any sense.

  4. Hi Tina! I work at a salon where I am a renter. Everyone at our facility is a renter except for the receptionist. The salon owner decided that it would be easier to sell Salon gift certificate that would be able to be used for any service and charge our clients one time. We are supposed to be paid when a service is completed and gift cards are turned in. Initially it sounded like it could be a good idea. As time has passed, the salon owner is competing for gift certificate sales with all of the stylist therapists and manicurists. She is offering discounts to entice clients to buy the salon gift card rather than from there stylist or therapist directly. When I approached her about it she denied any personal benefit (she isnt a stylist or therapist, just a landlord). Shortly after i approached her, she began retailing and consulting. She also stopped “expiring” the gift cards in 1 year and follows the Michigan law of 5 years before expiration. We are pretty sure that she spends this money on personal things and when a gift card is turned in she uses rent money to pay the stylist or therapists or sells more gift cards to pay us. Is this legal?!?!? I’m concerned that if she keeps doing this, and needs to keep selling more gift certificates to pay the stylist and therapist for the ones previously sold it will eventually catch up to her and she’ll be out of business, which hurts all of the tenants. I have seen some late payment notices for utilities and such so I am concerned. Do you know of any laws or Michigan laws that would prevent this? I had hoped gift certificate money was escrowed, but it isn’t. Thank you for your fabulous articles, insight and help!!!!

    • How she manages the gift certificate revenue on her end really isn’t relevant to anything so long as the renters are being paid upon redemption. It’s legal for her to run her business finances however she chooses (you’re right–business owners aren’t required to hold gift certificate revenue in a trust account or anything; they’re just responsible for ensuring that they have the resources to ensure redemption). Likewise, her poor financial management isn’t necessarily your concern UNLESS you want to approach her about it as a friend and a tenant who hopes to continue to have a place to conduct business. As far as I know, there are no laws against what she’s doing, but if you’re starting to see late payment notices–and you’re close enough to her personally to approach her about it–I’d recommend doing so ASAP, in private. Just prepare yourself. Some people are very sensitive about money issues and don’t respond well, even when those involved are coming from a position of genuine concern.

  5. I reported my former boss to Revenue Canada last year. When I was hired in 2013 as an instructor at a hair school, I had no idea that I was most certainly not an independant contractor as she had me classified. Revenue Canada did an investigation and ruled in my favour; problem was they only made her pay my EI and CPP for the last year I worked there — I was “laid off” in April of 2017, so she only had to pay back 4 months of my unemploment and pension. When I asked the guy at Revenue Canada what about all other years she stole for me, he didn’t have an answer except that they could only get her for that fiscal year. Not long after, my friend (who was also my former co-worker at the same school) was contacted by Rev Can asking the same questions they asked me during my complaint investigation. Same thing with her; they ruled in her favour and our former boss had to pay back her EI and CPP for 2017 (she quit July 2017). This screwed both of us financially and now that we know better, we’d like to know if there’s a way to get her to pay the rest of the source deductions she did not pay us for the whole time we worked there (over 4 years for me, a year for my friend). Is there any way the government will go after her for the rest? Or should we talk to a lawyer?

    • I would recommend going to an employee rights attorney, as they’re your best resource and are more likely to either a.) get things moving in a timely fashion, or b.) give you a strategy for working with enforcement agencies more effectively.

  6. I have a friend who pretty much works for free. No hourly, just commission and she barely makes anything. She is classified as an employee but not meeting the min wage requirement. I was going to work there but decided pretty quickly that I didn’t work for free. I’m still not able to find a place to work but here is no way I will enable this way of running a business. I live in a small town and none of the businesses in the salon industry are doing things the right and legal way. People are working from home without a license or not running a legal home salon. I can’t open a home salon because I don’t have the proper set up. It’s so unfair and I wish these salon workers would stop enabling this behavior that is destroying the industry and my ability to work.

    • I’m so happy to hear that you’re not going to stand for it. Too few professionals have the same integrity, which is why this kind of garbage continues. I’m the same way. I would rather work retail than work in a salon for an exploitative salon owner. I won’t facilitate tax evasion, wage theft, or unfair competition–and I’m not too proud to work in another industry if that’s what it takes to pay my bills.

      What those owners in your area don’t realize is that they’re creating an opportunity for someone to come in and crush them.

      All it would take to lure all their employees out the door is a compliant compensation system. The clients would follow the professionals, and it’s game over for them. I’ve seen it happen because I’ve personally helped new salon owners do just that, lol. Maybe one day, you’ll be that new salon owner. 🙂

  7. Tina hi I am having a hard time finding info on commission based salons , I only get commission and it’s been lowered twice since I’ve worked for this woman . The first time was when she was moving the business and needed help painting putting things together etc .. so myself and a couple others helped her quite a bit and were never compensated for which at the time I was fine with because the salon was going to be bigger and better and I’m going to help if asked , she told the whole salon that we would all be getting a raise when we started at the place . Well the new salon opened , about 2 weeks in and she starts calling us into her office and explained that we weren’t going to be getting a raise in fact she would have to lower our commission “ temperarely “ but .. we would actually still be getting a raise because she’s raising the prices ! So at sometime after that she lowered my commission “ again “ and I had no prior knowledge she would be doing this . As if that wasn’t enough she put me and another stylist at the bottom of the list to receive clients . We were not informed about this either we suspected and got someone to verify this for us . Is any of this legal ?

    • Hi Tracy! I would recommend reading Know Your Rights. That post goes into everything you need to know about legal compensation. Regardless of how you’re being compensated, your employer is required to pay you at least the prevailing minimum wage (plus any applicable overtime) for each hour you’ve worked in the pay period. So, “commission-only” isn’t a thing. It’s commission versus (or plus) hourly, or it’s illegal.

      As for the pay changes, any reduction in wages must be communicated in advance of any work being performed in that pay period. If you aren’t being informed until after the work has been performed, it’s not legal.

  8. …. options as a “student” / i-didnot-signtogoindebtforforcedlabor for $20K, please?.
    Also, I find it very interesting, at school, when “ethics” and “real world” situations are brought up, my questions are answered with “educators” walking away mumbling, “we can put in a request”….??? -OR- my refusing to be a maid service for their top 20 sounds the alarms for the hounds to come out outing me as not being a “team player”
    I thank you so much for your knowledge and masters in B.A’n (bad-assin) it!! I am not fond of folks taking advantage of those who naturally have ounces of good humanity in their DNA & it sadly being drained or forced out by intimidation so they give up, THANKS WOMAN!!

    • That “team player” thing is enough to make anyone’s head explode. I HATE that argument and anyone who dares to say that to me better duck for cover or hope my chair’s bolted to the floor, because I will throw it at them.

      Anyways, corporate salons are generally a safe bet if you don’t want to be exploited in the salon. While they don’t pay as well (or at least, appear not to pay as well) they do comply with federal wage and tax laws. Additionally, they often provide options for upward mobility that private facilities aren’t capable of offering.


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