If an employer requires a training course, shouldn't they also pay for it?
May 2, 2012 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Is it legal for an employer to force employees to pay for a training course? My wife works in a fairly high-end hair salon and the owners organize a yearly training day. Attendance is mandatory and each employee must pay $700 to attend.

The class lasts about 4 hours and there are 30 stylists attending, so this isn't going to be very personal. This is not for any type of certification, and they won't be acquiring any new skills they can market. Since all of the employees are on commission, they will receive no hourly compensation either. Many of them have to take the day off to attend so they're losing money on top of paying. We're in Michigan, and I haven't been able to locate any information on the legality of this. If it isn't legal, any advice on how to handle this?
posted by robotnixon to Law & Government (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Ouch. I have no legal advice. You could call probably call the dept of labor.

I can imagine requiring some kind of continuing education--maybe even specifying the type--but this sounds sketchy.

If your wife decides to discuss it with them, she may want to assume they're just bumbling small business owners who are ignorant of the law. Approach them out of concern that they're putting themselves in a position of liability and "there's been some talk on the floor".

It's a risky approach no matter what. She should be prepared to walk, be fired, or worse--get bad assignments or whatever kind if retaliation they give hairdressers on their bad side-- if it doesn't go well.

Is it possible they put it in a contract she signed?
posted by vitabellosi at 5:32 PM on May 2, 2012

Some states require that hairdressers be licensed. Perhaps that what this pertains to.

Else it sounds fishy.
posted by dfriedman at 5:34 PM on May 2, 2012

I don't know if it is legal or not. However, to answer your last question, I would suggest the possible answer: "I am sorry, but I really can not afford to spend $700 at the moment". 30 stylists times $700 = $21,000 for 4 hours ... someone is really raking in some serious money in an easy way.
posted by aroberge at 5:36 PM on May 2, 2012 [10 favorites]

I don't have the complete answer, but the Cosmetology department of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs says:

The State of Michigan does not presently require continuing education for cosmetology occupations.
posted by notme at 5:44 PM on May 2, 2012

Just to clarify, she has no contract, and stylists need to be licensed before they work on clients. These are all licensed stylists.

She does have signed agreement stating that she's not allowed to work within 10 miles of the salon if she quits or gets fired. So quitting or creating a situation would be an issue. She otherwise really likes the place and is consistently busy.

If anyone decides not to attend they can be fired or they limit walk-in clients. If someone without a preferred stylists or someone whose preferred stylist is off wants an appointment they'll schedule it with attendees before the holdouts. Since she has no control over scheduling they may schedule her existing clients with other people as retribution. All speculative but they really stress the "mandatory-ness" of the class.
posted by robotnixon at 5:48 PM on May 2, 2012

She does have signed agreement stating that she's not allowed to work within 10 miles of the salon if she quits or gets fired.

It would be worth finding out if that is actually enforceable.
posted by mendel at 5:59 PM on May 2, 2012 [18 favorites]

It also may be illegal for them to pay you less than minimum wage in general and for these required training hours specifically. Call the Wage and Hour Division of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to ask.
posted by grouse at 6:10 PM on May 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

This sounds so extremely fishy that I would indeed call your state board of cosmetology.

You might also do a bit of Googling on this salon's name (and the owner's names) and some related terms for this training...have there been previous complaints, lawsuits, fines?

She might like the job otherwise, but an employer willing to screw you over so thoroughly is not going to be worth it in the long run. And honestly, most clients will follow a stylist they like elsewhere.

I really also doubt the legality of her agreement; she has no contract? So how can they force her to do anything, really? But I'm not a lawyer.

If she's feeling particularly bold and doesn't want to faff around looking at legal issues, I'd say just take another job, tell her clients where she'll be, and dare them to do something about it. But again; not your lawyer, this is not legal advice.
posted by emjaybee at 6:11 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is she willing to walk (if the noncompete is invalid)?
posted by J. Wilson at 6:49 PM on May 2, 2012

Are you sure she's actually an employee? That'd be my first concern - to sell products on commission, or be a franchisee of a company, you can totally be required to do all kinds of insane, expensive things that you would never have to do as a regular employee. Did she get a W2 or a 1099 for 2011, for example?
posted by SMPA at 6:54 PM on May 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

non competition clauses are generally unenforceable, ESPECIALLY if she has no work contract. if she quit/got fired and worked someplace else, he could do nothing about it.
this training thing sounds extremely phishy, as it's not a licensing requirement or some sort of continuing education required in her field. he also shouldn't be able to threaten her with less work by not attending, he's basically saying "you pay me this or i'll make sure you don't work".
that being said, with no contract she is an at-will employee, he could still let her go for no reason. i would really talk to an employment lawyer to cover all your bases.
posted by camdan at 7:00 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

non competition clauses are generally unenforceable, ESPECIALLY if she has no work contract. if she quit/got fired and worked someplace else, he could do nothing about it.

Whoa, don't do anything based on the advice here about non-competes. No one here knows your jurisdiction, and even if they did, they haven't seen your non-compete, and even if they had, they'd be crazy to opine on it here.
posted by palliser at 7:09 PM on May 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

This sounds unethical and illegal. She should talk to an attorney, who might be able to write a letter to the salon informing them of the problem, assuming there is something fishy going on. This can be done without identifying your wife.

Something similar might could be done by a state regulatory agency, either the department of labor or the cosmetology board. And the retaliatory aspect of this is especially troubling.

She could also go 'Norma Jean' and see if she can get the other stylists to also refuse.

Also, I don't think a no-compete clause is enforceable, especially if someone is fired. She might want to she start giving out her number to her clients (and getting theirs) so if she does leave, they can find her.
posted by shoesietart at 7:13 PM on May 2, 2012

Michigan has a Whistle-blower law.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:17 PM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am not an attorney. All standard disclaimers apply.

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs says, On the job training which is directly related to the employee's job should be counted as hours worked and paid accordingly.

From what I've been reading it seems as if hairdressers paid less than $455 per week are normally FLSA non-exempt, even if they're paid on commisson. Meaning that they are normally entitled to overtime, unless they earn 1½ times the applicable minimum wage for every hour worked in a workweek.

I couldn't find any information about employee paid mandatory training. I found all kinds of information about employer paid training. That whole thing seems kind of fishy to me. The FLSA says (29 CFR § 785.27),
Attendance at lectures, meetings, training programs and similar activities are viewed as working time unless all of the following criteria are met:
  • Attendance is outside of the employee’s regular working hours;
  • Attendance is in fact voluntary;
  • The course, lecture, or meeting is not directly related to the employee’s job; and
  • The employee does not perform any productive work during such attendance.
As far the non-compete goes, information online seems to indicate that as long as it is limited in geographic scope and duration, e.g. can't cut hair within five miles for one year, it is enforceable under Michigan law. However, keep in mind that, according to the article Judicial Review and Reformation of Noncompete Agreements [PDF] from The Construction Lawyer, Vol. 29, Num. 3 by Robert Orelup and Christopher Drewry, As a general matter, Michigan courts presume the legality, validity, and enforceability of contracts, but noncompetition agreements between employers and employees are disfavored as restraints on commerce and are only enforceable to the extent they are reasonable. I don't know if ten miles is too broad of a scope or not. It depends on the circumstances in your area. You're going to have to ask an attorney on that one. (I note that a ruling by the Court of Appeals for Michigan ruled that in the case of Lockworks, Ltd. v. Keegan the trial court made a reversible error when it "blue penciled" a non-compete agreement from five miles to four miles.)

As to if your wife is an independent contractor, broadly speaking if the employer sets the hours and conditions, makes the appointments, collects the fees, and provides all the supplies then the employee is not normally considered an independent contractor.

Ultimately, I'm don't think there's any getting around the fact that you need to contact an attorney knowledgeable about labor law in Michigan. This whole thing stinks to high heaven.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:21 PM on May 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

She's definitely not an independent contractor. She receives s W2. Commission-only positions are pretty common in salons. I'm sorry if her employment status was ambiguous.

She's not too worried about the non-complete (as of now), as she'd like to avoid quitting over this. Ideally she'd like to anonymously make the owners aware of the legality of the issue and dissuade them from forcing the staff to cough up $700 a piece for the class.
posted by robotnixon at 7:53 PM on May 2, 2012

Is it legal for an employer to force employees to pay for a training course?

One of my friends in CA used to work for CutCo, and they did this. My friend just received a very nice surprise check in the mail, as a result of the class action lawsuit that was filed against CutCo, which CutCo lost.
posted by cairdeas at 8:12 PM on May 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

Commission-only positions are pretty common in salons.

That doesn't make it legal. If she's not earning at least the minimum wage over a work period, it probably isn't. Talk to your Wage and Hour division for exact interpretation.
posted by grouse at 9:38 PM on May 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm late to comment, but nobody mentioned this...

When money is asked for with negative consequences being the result of the money not paid, there are three words to ask, not only an attorney, but a prosecutor about:


All three are crimes.

posted by Gerard Sorme at 2:35 AM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

ob1quixote and grouse make good points. Google "Employee Rights" or "Labor Rights" + your area to look for legal aid clinics or the like that could help you with this.
posted by Aizkolari at 7:29 AM on May 3, 2012

Are the owners of the salon in any way, shape, or form involved with the people putting on the training? I have no idea if that makes a legal difference but if yes, that is SUPER shady.
posted by whitetigereyes at 8:24 AM on May 3, 2012

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