Legal Definitions & Basic FAQs
What is an independent contractor, what is an employee, and what am I?
These days, most clubs classify dancers as independent contractors, but do not give dancers the benefits that independent contractor status are supposed to have.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Labor have developed certain guidelines that are used to determine whether someone is an independent contractor or employee.
Here are the main differences between both statuses:
- As an independent contractor…
- Clubs can charge you house fees
- Clubs cannot tell you when to work, how to dress, or how to conduct your business at work
- Clubs do not have to pay you wages
- Clubs cannot ask you to pay a percentage or flat fee of your tips earned to management or other club staff
- Clubs cannot demand exclusivity
- You are not entitled to sick days, health care, maternity leave, or workers’ compensation if you get injured at work. You are financially responsible for incidentals
- You can be fired for any reason and are not protected against discrimination laws
- You owe more taxes because you do not have required taxes deducted from a paycheck and thus, required to pay them yourself. In general, independent contractors will be required to pay an income tax on all of your income plus the mandatory FICA tax, which is your contribution to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. Depending on where you live, you may be subjected to additional self-employment taxes.
- While you owe more in taxes, you can deduct work-related expenses. Make sure to keep receipts for anything you purchase for work, including your stage fee receipts. Additionally, your club should provide you with a 1099 form.
- As an employee…
- Clubs can’t charge you house fees
- Clubs have to pay you an hourly wage that satisfies the minimum requirements for your state, over overtime for more than 40 hours of labor in one 7-day pay period, and let you keep all your tips.
- You are entitled to paid sick days and workers’ compensation if you get injured at work. You may be entitled to maternity leave and short-term disability leave.
- You cannot be discriminated against at work – you cannot be given different work, a lower wage, or fired because of your age, gender, race, sexual orientation, country of origin, and many other reasons.
- Your employer should pay payroll taxes on your wages and you should get a W-2 at the end of the year.
- You have a right to be accommodated if you are in a domestic violence situation or have a disability.
- You can’t be fired for talking to other dancers about rights or conditions at the club, or trying to make changes at the club.
What can I do about labor violations at my club?
There is not a one size fits all solution to labor violations at strip clubs. Rather, each dancer has a different set of circumstances that permits or prevents them from taking certain action. What one dancer does to take action may or may not be available to another dancer.
Below are a list of suggestions we have developed based off of what others in our community have tried:
- If you feel you have been misclassified as an independent contractor, then consider contacting a labor lawyer to assess your classification, then filing a lawsuit or joining one is applicable.
- Organize with other dancers for collective labor rights. Unionizing is possible, but will require everyone to be classified as an employee first. Check out the historical Lusty Lady and the first exotic dancers union, SEIU Local 70 to learn how they were able to successfully organize.
- You can file a labor complaint with your state Department of Labor or Labor Commission. To do so, you will need to fill out a wage complaint application. Our friends at License To Pimp suggest you keep track of the following:
- The days that you worked (keep a separate calendar just for your strip club job)
- How many hours you worked each shift (Count from the time you began dressing & putting on makeup until you leave the premises at the end of your shift. Include the time you spend cashing out at the end of the night when management take your tips.) Include all hours worked overtime.
- How much you paid out every shift in stage fees; commissions; mandatory tip outs to the DJs, house mom, manager; fines; mandatory uniform purchases (ex. stilettos, g-strings, pasties, evening gown, make up–things that you only wear for work), etc.
- How much you were required to purchase in club merchandise to re-sell to customers. This includes money that comes out of your own pocket to pay for things like club T-shirts, cigars, etc.
- Any receipts that the management provided you for paying stage fees including IOUs they might have issued to you when you didn’t make your quota, etc
- Any house rules or contracts that the management made you sign as a condition of your employment
- What the minimum wages were over the time that you worked (these rates vary over time & the Labor Commission has exact details of this–ask them). In cities like San Francisco, they have set a higher minimum wage than the state, which can take precedence. Contact your city officials to find out if this applies to your city.
Make sure to check your state Labor Commission for specifics on filing statute of limitations as they vary state by state. They often have staff who can help you fill out your complaint application.
What can I do about sexual harassment and discrimination at work?
Unfortunately, our legal system does not provide the same legal protections to independent contractors that are afforded to employees against sexual harassment and discrimination.
That being said, proving sexual harassment as an exotic dancer may be difficult to do under the law, since the job involves a sexually suggestive atmosphere. However, just because you are a dancer doesn’t mean that you have to accept inappropriate behavior – things like unwanted touching by an employer or co-worker ARE sexual harassment and can be acted upon legally if you are considered an employee of the club.
Likewise, you have a right to not be discriminated against if you are an employee. For example, if you are made to do different kinds of work from your co-workers because of your identity, or if you receive a different wage, or are fired because of your identity, these may be violations of your rights. If you think you are being discriminated against for your race, age, gender, because you are pregnant, or because you have a disability, you might want to speak to an attorney.
Is it legal for clubs to charge house fees?
This depends on whether you are an employee or an independent contractor. In the United States, it is illegal to charge dancers house fees if they are employees, but it is legal to charge dancers to work if they are independent contractors.
I want to file a lawsuit against my club but I don’t want my name in the papers. Can I do it anonymously?
Unfortunately, you cannot file a lawsuit anonymously. In some cases, a judge has allowed dancers to join already-filed lawsuits “under seal” so that their names are not available to the public. However, any time you join a lawsuit, at least the club will know who you are.
It is important to note that while it is illegal for a club to fire you or discriminate against you because you have filed or joined a lawsuit, they can still fire you for another reason that has nothing to do with your lawsuit even if you feel that was the true cause of your termination.
In some cases, you can file a complaint against the club with a government agency, like the Department of Labor or the Labor Relations Board. In some cases, the club will not know it was you who filed the complaint, and your name will not be released to the public. This may be a way to proceed anonymously. You can get compensation this way, but it sometimes takes longer than a private lawsuit, and you have less control over the outcome.
What if my club is raided by the police?
Uniformed police officers can be refused entry to an indoor location, unless they have a warrant. However, sometimes undercover police officers will come into a club posing as customers. They do not need a warrant if they are invited in, even if they are only invited in because the club does not know they are police. If on-duty police are in the club, they are probably looking for prostitution or other illegal activities.
The ACLU has listed several helpful points to consider if you become a part of an investigation during a club raid.
Could I be arrested for giving a lap dance?
You can be arrested for a prostitution-related or solicitation-related offense if you: offer, agree to, perform implied acts of, or engage in sexual conduct as defined by local, state, and federal law in exchange for a fee, gifts, tokens of monetary value, or drugs. Unfortunately, laws prohibiting forms of sex work vary drastically and obscenity laws are loosely defined but heavily enforced. Check with your club to find out specific laws in your area that you need to be aware of.
“Sexual conduct” for the purposes of a prostitution charge definitely includes acts of vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse, masturbation, and oral sex. However, you can be arrested for intent to solicit or implying prostitution.
- For example:
- Some courts have held that some kinds of lap dancing can also be prostitution if it involves the touching of either the dancer’s or the customer’s clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks or breasts.
- While state and local regulations vary, it is a general rule that lap dances should not involve any touching of the dancer’s genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or breasts and the customer’s genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or breasts. This should be observed whether clothed or unclothed.
- Some courts uphold the most strict interpretation of the law. We must expect this to always be the case in order to best protect ourselves and make informed choices. Every dancer makes their own decisions on the job and should do so with proper risk calculation.
As WAD USA becomes more developed, we plan on outlining a clear guide where dancers can be informed of what laws to abide by in their specific area. If you have questions about the legality of your work in a specific location prior to our release of such information, please email us.
Can I get in trouble for dancing nude in a club that sells alcohol?
This depends on the regulatory laws in your area. We are currently collecting nationwide legislation to detail specific laws local to each club and will soon have this information available.
Can I be arrested for having condoms?
Condoms are not illegal and you absolutely have a right to carry them. However, if you are being arrested and charged with prostitution, having condoms could be used as evidence. Tell your criminal defense lawyer if the police take condoms away from you as part of an arrest, so they can argue that they should not be used as evidence.
What should I do if I am arrested?
You have the right to remain silent, and it is always advisable to do so and ask for an attorney. Other than your name and address, do NOT answer any questions. That includes questions about immigration status. Instead say, “I am going to remain silent. I would like to see a lawyer.”
Per the 4th amendment, you have the right to not consent to be searched. However, they can waive this right if they have probable cause to search you. If the police want to see what is in your bag or pockets, say, “I do not consent to this search.” They may search you anyway, but this makes it harder for them to use anything they find.
You have the right to a lawyer, and if you cannot afford an attorney, you may be assigned a public defender when you are brought to court.
Do not lie, give false documents, or a false name – you have one set of fingerprints, and it will come back to you regardless.
When you are arrested, you usually will spend about 24 hours (possibly longer) in a holding cell before you are brought to court to be arraigned. Ask to make a phone call so that someone can meet you at the court.
Remember that you are innocent until proven guilty. If you feel pressured to plead guilty (even to a lesser charge) and do not feel comfortable doing so, get your lawyer to request an adjournment so you have more time to decide what to do. There are extremely limited circumstances by which someone can expunge, seal, or vacate convictions, and thus it is advisable to be sure of all consequences before entering a plea” or something like that.
Sidenote: Memorize important numbers in case of ever being arrested. Always keep cash in a safe place in your space or at a friend’s house in case you need to pay bail.
Could I be deported because I don’t have work papers?
If you are in the U.S with no immigration status, you can be removed from the country just for not having status. If you are in the U.S. with a kind of status that does not allow you to work, and you are working anyway, you may be at risk for deportation.
If you are an immigrant, even an undocumented immigrant, you still have the same labor rights as a citizen. All of the advice above still applies to you! However, before you take any legal action about your rights, tell your attorney you are undocumented so they can protect you.
If you are arrested, it is important to tell your defense lawyer that you are undocumented. This is in your best interest, so they can work to protect you and your status in this country. They legally cannot share this information with anyone else without your permission or in a manner that you being in the country. However, only share this information with your defense lawyer, no one else. Sometimes immigration officials will visit you where you are being held and try to get you to admit to being undocumented.
If you are arrested, ask for advice from your lawyer on the effect of what happens in court on your immigration status. Prostitution convictions can result in deportation, even if you have a green card.