Whether you’re a yoga studio owner or teacher, COVID has changed how the entire Yoga world operates. It’s more important than ever to have best legal practices in place to ensure your business and assets are protected.
During this legal training you will have the opportunity to receive legal guidance from an attorney who truly understands the ins and outs of the yoga industry and the respective changes you must address in 2021.
Thank you Cory Sterling & Conscious Counsel for joining us once again to give our yogis the most conscious legal advice for yoga instructors entering 2021. Let's get to the summary!
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Understanding the Concept of Law
Cory's job as a lawyer is to help clients communicate their expectations openly and honestly in the various commercial relationships they have.
No matter if you are a health professional that does dance, movement, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, fitness; how we all need to approach law is the same. How we as online wellness professionals need to think about the law and apply it to our businesses.
Key takeaway: evaluate the different commercial relationships you have in your business and think how can I communicate my expectations opening and honestly to whoever I have that relationship with.
What to do if an issue arises and how it will get resolved?
A complaint from a customer has been given to you, this complaint can take many forms such as a "letter of demand". Whatever the complaint is and what form it comes in, you must respond. The strength of your response will dictate how long, intense, stressful, and/or expensive the process of resolving the issue is going to be.
This is where the importance of having properly created legal documents come in. If someone makes a complaint against you, as long as you have the legal agreement that has been documented and signed that directly goes against what the complaint is, in your response you can send them a copy of the agreement that details why there is no validity to their legal claim.
Have these agreements ready before you begin your relationships!
Properly Drafted Waiver of Liability & What to Include in It
Elements of a Liability Waiver
- Specifically state what activities are being done.
- List out the types of yoga, where the yoga will taking place (online, in studio, outside)
- What are the risks of activities.
- Risks could include falling, injuring parts of the body, pulling muscles, etc.
- What are the outcomes of the risks.
- Think of this as the actual injuries such as spinal cord damage, permanent injury, permanent change to the quality of living.
- Agree and understand the above risks and outcomes.
- Affirm they are healthy and capable to participate in this activity.
- Sign away their legal rights.
- Meaning they release you of any legal liability if anything were to happen.
Free Templated Yoga Liability Waiver!
*When using a templated waiver beYogi highly recommends speaking with a legal professional to ensure your documents are valid and enforceable. We provide this waiver as a starting point for yoga teachers, by no means is this template a final draft.
Waivers of Liability VS. Legal Disclaimers
Waiver of Liability
The way a waiver of liability is the gold standard. It is the best protection you will get because it is a document that someone signs or electronically agrees to in which they forfeit their right to take a legal action against you.
Waivers of liability apply to the classes you know who is participating in the activities with you. Traditionally, it would be the front desk attendee...in 2021 it may be the zoom waiting room or an invite to access the online studio.
You would employ this when you do not have control or the ability to monitor whoever is consuming your content. A disclaimer contains verbiage like, "You are performing these activities at your own risk and you will not hold us responsible if an incident occurs. Here is a list of my qualifications that allows me the ability to teach you."
It is important to note that in a disclaimer, the content user is not legally agreeing to the idea that they will not hold you responsible even if they did participate. It is only a safety net that will protect you as long as you include it in your video or in the description.
Specific Language around Covid in Legal Agreements
Remember a waiver is only as good as the activities and risks it describes.
Now with the new circumstances of the pandemic you must include language to address Covid concerns in your liability waiver. No longer are we just doing yoga, we are doing yoga in an environment where there is a communicable disease that is transmitted through the air. As such, since the activity is different the risks of the activity are different as well. Now there are risks surrounding catching the virus which could have challenging effects on a person's life.
To reiterate Covid language must be included in your liability waiver so long as what you are doing has any in-person elements. Cory suggests adding it to your waiver even if you are not currently having any in-person classes or sessions.
What is enough? (When it comes to waivers & disclaimers)
Ideally if you are giving people access to your Zoom classes (free or paid), try your best to collect email addresses and then you can use something like WaiverKing to require signed waivers from each participating student. Just posting a waiver next to your zoom links or online class links is not a practice Conscious Counsel advises.
Do waivers of liability have expiration dates?
You can draft your waiver to include a provision which will say something like, "So long as our activities do not change or your health does not change, the validity of this waiver will continue to be valid until further notice or activities change." In this case your liability waiver will be valid until an activity has changed.
Remember, so long as the activities stay the same your waiver will be valid however if you begin teaching online without updating your waiver of liability to include the activity of teaching online classes, your waiver is now ineffective. Each new waiver of liability must be signed by each participant.
Can I legally require masks & Covid vaccines upon reopening?
It takes time for our Governments to create and pass the relevant laws around new issues and problems. Currently there is no right answer to this but using liability waivers and your legal documents to your advantage to preface your relationships is important. This could include a statement in which you explain the reasoning behind these types of policies- which would be to protect your community against harm.
The one thing you have to be careful of is discrimination or human rights violations. Cory says, "I don't think there is a great exposure to risk but someone could say that they are being discriminated against as a result or requiring a vaccine to participate in an studio class".
Distinction between contractors and employees in the yoga space
The general rule between a contractor and an employee varies from state to state. For example, California and Massachustets have a very specific test in the difference between a contractor and an employee other states like Florida and Texas go by the IRS test.
The question will come down to, "what control do you have over the people you have working for your studio?". The more control you have over the services they provide the more they are considered an employee and the less control you have over the way the services are provided the more they are like a contractor.
When you work with a lawyer, they will understand what the tests are based on the jurisdiction. A lawyer can help you reverse engineer the way the services are provided so that the relationship in fact is a contractor and employee.
Now since everyone is offering their services online it is important to register a trademark to secure your brand, business name, logo, slogan, and any other company assets that would need to be protected.
Cory saw many businesses at the end of 2020 having to change their business name because they did not register their trademark. Usually, the way it goes is, whichever company has been using the name longest has priority. As soon as someone registers their trademark that puts them above the person who was using it longer. This can become a difficult task to regain priority over the business name and begin to use it exclusively.
Moral of the story make sure to trademark your company assets. A lawyer can help you file these types of things.
About Cory Sterling
Cory Sterling is a lawyer, small business owner, group fitness instructor and yoga teacher. He wrote The Yoga Law Book and has served hundreds of clients in the health and fitness space all across the world, the majority of whom own or operate a fitness/health studio. He has presented at conferences around the world, teaching about the law in a FUN and practical way.
He won the award for "Highest Rated Session" at MindBody Bold in 2019, amongst a field of the health and fitness leading minds and best presenters. In March 2020, he completed the MindBody Business Consulting Program in order to learn overall best business practices for studios and is the only lawyer to hold the certificate.