New York Launches Task Force To Combat Nail Salon Labor Abuses

In the wake of news reports and an undercover state Dept. of Labor investigation into allegedly horrid labor practices — from employees who don’t get paid until the boss deems they are ready to illnesses believed to be caused by chemicals in the products they use — at nail salons in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says his administration is taking immediate action to protect employees’ health and wages.

Cuomo says he is launching an multi-agency enforcement task force that will “work together to implement new health and safety regulations for nail salon employees and engage in new enforcement actions to recover unpaid wages, issue fines and penalties for violations of all relevant laws and regulations, assess damages and evaluate whether to revoke the license of violators.”

The task force will work to secure back wages for those employees whose pay was illegally withheld by their employers. According to reports, many salon workers were paid well below minimum wage. While it’s legal to pay a tipped employee (such as a restaurant server) below the minimum, that employees total, tip-included compensation must still add up to at least the minimum hourly rate. In some cases, salon employees were also being paid on a purely commission basis, meaning they could make no money if no clients came in.

According to Cuomo, new regulations will requiring every nail salon to secure either a bond or expanded insurance policy to cover claims for unpaid wages as part of its licensure. And if a salon fails fails to comply with an order to pay assessed back wages, it must then take out an additional bond to cover those wages and two years’ worth of future wages.

While much of the focus on the nail salon reports has been centered on wage-related issues, it was also revealed that many employees are inhaling and coming into contact with toxic chemicals, without using or being provided with equipment to keep them from falling ill.

The new task force will create regulations that require the use of things like gloves and face masks when needed. Salons will also be required to be compliant with existing rules giving salon employees the right to demand and wear protective equipment. In addition to enforcing compliance on existing ventilation regulations, new rules will require personal fans at each work station.

Because many nail salon employees, especially the newest workers, speak little-to-no English — and because there are often multiple languages spoken within a salon — all salons will be required to post notices that all employees can see and read, describing their rights to full, legal wages and a safe working environment. These notices will also include contact information for employees to file complaints or alert authorities of violations.

Cuomo says the task force will take action to revoke the business licenses of any egregious offenders, and currently unlicensed nail salons will be shut down.

“We will not stand idly by as workers are deprived of their hard-earned wages and robbed of their most basic rights,” reads a statement from Cuomo. “This Task Force will crack down on these kinds of abuses in the nail salon industry, enforce all of New York’s health and safety regulations, and help ensure that no one – regardless of their citizenship status or what language they speak – is illegally victimized by their employer.”