In 2016 I completed an art project which was to create a book of 140 images that would illustrate the most popular Rumi Quotes based upon my @RumiQuotes Twitter account. I had almost 400,000 followers but Twitter recently took down my account and has refused to re-instate my followers. To make lemons out of lemonade I have decided to offer a free version of this book for your enjoyment. The book is 160 pages long and is in PDF form. It has many resources on Rumi. Here is the link where you can get the book. Just enter $0.00 for the price. I hope you find it inspiring!
The “2016 Yoga in America Study” by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance found that over 36 million people in America practice yoga and spend over $16 billion dollars a year on classes, workshops, retreats, festivals, clothes and products. The Study found that over 90% of Americans are aware of the existence of yoga. There are more than 70,000 yoga teachers and 26,000 studios.
As yoga has grown, it has entered the mainstream. Yoga is in the movies and on TV. Advertisements that capitalize on the popularity of yoga have become common. I have seen yoga ads for mattresses, clocks, stretchy business cards, jump ropes, tote bags, yoga straws, weight lifting gyms, and bus stops. Yoga is being offered in hotels, resorts, parks, gyms, airports and nightclubs; it seems that new studios are popping up on every street corner. International yoga retreats, spiritual travel, and yoga and music fes- tivals are popular. Yoga classes are being streamed over the Internet and many teach- ers and schools are using webinars and video platforms. I receive daily teachings from Swami Satchidananda on my “Daily Guru” app.
Yoga has embraced fashion. There are Instagram yoga celebrities that are endorsing brands and being well paid. There are now billion dollar corporations that sell yoga clothes and have their own yoga studios as marketing platforms for their products.
Yoga has melded with general wellness culture and it has now become part of a healthy lifestyle. The Study shows that most people practice yoga to reduce stress, in- crease flexibility, and to complement their other sports and activities.
From yoga’s early days as part of the spiritual underground and a pathway to enlightenment, it has now evolved into a big and trendy business. As I write this introduction, I am thinking of one of the early books that introduced me to the spiritual path: Be Here Now. When Ram Dass published the book in 1971, the graphics were made with rubber stamps, and the first edition came in a box. It was tied together with a string. Today you can download an enhanced version from Amazon. It has audio and video content that you can access on your iPhone.
IncreasIng Legal Risks for Yoga Studios, Wellness Businesses and Teachers
The evolution of yoga into a mainstream wellness lifestyle and a big business has brought important benefits to many people. However, this has increased the legal risks and responsibilities for all yoga and wellness business owners and teachers.
I see seven trends that are driving our involvement in the legal world and the importance of understanding how the legal system effects every aspect of our businesses.
First, federal and state taxing authorities are auditing yoga studios over the misclassification of their teachers as independent contractors rather than as employees. The result has been taxes, penalties and fines. Some studios have gone out of business be- cause they cannot afford to pay the tax bills. Others are being forced to reclassify their teachers as employees and others are doing so voluntarily out of fear of being audited. This situation affects yoga teachers because their tax status has been converted from independent contractor to employee. It also means that their relationship with the studio has fundamentally changed. As employees, teachers are subject to the direct control of the studio; they are being hired to fulfill a job.
Second, yoga and wellness businesses have embraced the Internet. Some are selling products over the Internet, streaming videos of classes, launching apps, and pursuing other creative business ideas. Yoga teachers are endorsing products. Businesses are trademarking and copyrighting their brands, products and content. Yoga studios use social media and newsletters to market their offerings. All of these activities have exposed studios to a new world of legal considerations involving intellectual property, product liability, advertising, and social media regulation. I have seen a large increase in conflicts over intellectual property among studios.
Third, there are new and complex privacy regulations at the state and international level that affect all yoga studios, wellness businesses and most teachers. This imposes important burdens and liabilities on all yoga and wellness businesses.
Fourth, as yoga has entered mainstream awareness, we are seeing an increase in student injuries. Because most yoga studios are under financial stress, running teacher training programs has become economically necessary. Consequently, there has been an expansion of yoga teacher training programs which are graduating teachers with modest levels of training. I believe the increase in injuries is a result of the rapid increase of new yoga students who view yoga as another form of physical exercise, and the flood of new yoga teachers who have modest training. Larger class sizes may also play a role in the increase in injuries. Although most of these injuries tend to be minor and are resolvable, plaintiff injury lawyers follow the money. They are much more likely to file a lawsuit alleging physical and emotional injury if they believe that a studio has money to pay a judgment and their legal fees.
Fifth, we have seen high profile sex scandals involving prominent yoga teachers. The #MeToo movement has led to exposure of many instances of sexual abuse within the yoga community. KQED, a public television station located in San Francisco, recently published a comprehensive story entitled: #MeToo Unmasks the Open Secret of Sexual Abuse in Yoga. I was interviewed for this story. I made the point that, if yoga does not clean up its history of abuse, then the regulators will do it for us.
As I discuss in this book, all yoga studios and wellness businesses must adopt codes of conduct, organize ethics committees and set up procedures to allow a student who may have been abused to report the situation to the studio in confidence. This shows that the studio is taking a stand against abuse and puts it in the best position to handle the situation in a competent, professional and fair way.
Sixth, as money has flowed into yoga and wellness businesses, regulators have taken note. Many states want to regulate studios as trade schools but Yoga Alliance has been very successful in defeating these movements. Several states are aggressively auditing yoga studios over the misclassification of teachers as independent contractors rather than as employees. Those studios who use employees are subject to complex employment laws at the federal, state and local level. These laws are constantly changing. Regulation inevitably increases the cost and complexity of doing business.
Seventh, as competition has increased among yoga studios, there has been an increase in disputes among studios, and their teachers and students. I have seen disputes over intellectual property and non-compete agreements for teachers. I have seen students threaten to sue yoga teacher training programs over their treatment by the program. I am concerned about yoga studios running international yoga retreats. Yoga studios are not professional travel agencies and international travel, particularly to third world countries, has many risks.
Essential Legal Education
I have written this book to provide basic legal education for yoga studios, wellness businesses, and teachers. Since we are now running real businesses, we must understand that we are part of a complex legal and business system and that all of our actions have con- sequences. There is no escape from the system, and all of the trends that I mentioned above compel us to meet our legal and business challenges head on.
Legal disputes and regulatory actions are expensive, create negative energy, and are time consuming. Conflicts with other studios, teachers and students can be stressful and heartbreaking. Yoga communities that have grown over a long time may become divided or dissolve. Time, money and energy that should be spent on offering yoga are diverted into lawyers and legal fees.
However, by providing education about the legal rules that apply to your yoga and wellness business, I hope you will adopt best practices and avoid legal problems. I hope that you will hire lawyers and other experts to guide you before you end up in a dispute or regulatory action. It is much easier to avoid the legal problem in the first place, than to resolve the problem after it has already happened. An ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure!
Now more than ever our society needs access to a thriving yoga and wellness community that heals body, mind and spirit. This happens by building prosperous businesses that create strong spiritual communities and wellness programs. However, we cannot thrive if we are mired in regulatory actions, conflicts and legal disputes.
I hope that this book will help your yoga business become strong and successful so that you may expand the practice of yoga and its priceless benefits to all.
I want to express my gratitude to Yoga Alliance for its support in helping me develop and distribute this book.
Gary Kissiah October 15, 2018
Miranda Leitsinger of KQED has just published her report on sexual abuse in yoga. The link is below. This is a comprehensive article that discusses this problem from many perspectives. It is essential reading for all members of the yoga community. We need to take a hard look at our conduct. We need to understand the extent of the problem. We need to make substantive changes to the way that we train our teachers, run our studios and conduct our classes. Students must learn what is acceptable behavior from their teachers and what is not. Miranda interviewed me for the article, and I am quoted several times. Most of my observations came from my article Lets Clean Up Yoga Now: Take a Stand. Stop the Crap! It is on my blog so be sure and give it a read.
Landmark Case on Independent Contractors in California
In a ruling with important consequences for yoga studios in California, the California Supreme Court on Monday made it much more difficult for studios to classify their teachers as independent contractors rather than as employees.
The case was Dynamex Operations West, Inc., v. The Superior Court of Los Angeles, California.In its opinion, the Court initially observed that classification of a worker has important consequences.
If the worker is an employee, then the business has the responsibility of paying Social Security and payroll taxes, unemployment insurancetaxes, employment taxes and worker’s compensation insurance.In addition, the business must meet requirements concerning minimum wages, hours, working conditions, and various employment protections.
However, if the worker is an independent contractor, then the business does not have to bear any of those obligations.
From a policy perspective, those businesses who have independent contractors have an economic advantage over those businesses who have employees because they do not have to pay taxes or follow the employment laws. Workers do not have the legal protections that employees have. Last, independent contractors deprive the government of billions of dollars of tax revenues.
In this case, the workers sued Dynamex which is a package delivery service and alleged that they were misclassified as independent contractors rather than as employees. The court held that the drivers were employees rather than independent contractors.
What is the ABC test?
The court rejected the existing test in California which (which used ten factors to determine status) and adopted the most restrictive test for classifying workers: the ABC test.Here is the ABC test:
The ABC test presumes that all workers are employees and permits workers to be classified as independent contractors only if the hiring business demonstrates that the worker in question satisfies each of three conditions: (a) that the worker is free from the control and direction of the hirer in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact; and (b) that the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and (c) that the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.
Importantly, workers are now presumed to be employees and it is up to the business to prove that workers are independent contractors if they can meet the ABC test.
Under the ABC test, the worker is considered an employee if he or she performs a job that is part of the “usual course” of the company’s business. Asan example, the court said a plumber hired by a store to fix a bathroom leak is not an employee of that store. The plumber is not in the same business as the store. However, seamstresses sewing at home using materials provided by a clothing manufacturer are employees.
In the same way, a yoga teacher is in the same business as the yoga studio. The yoga studio provides the teacher with the “tools” (yoga mats, props, music system, etc.) to teach the classes. Yoga studios typically assert a large degree of control over the details of the way that teachers teach their classes.The teachers teach the classes at the yoga studio.
What does this mean for yoga studios in California?
It means that the yoga teachers who teach in your studio are presumed to be employees. Yoga studios now have to meet the restrictive ABC test. Teachers are independent contractors only if (a) you do not control or direct how they teach their classes, (b) if teaching yoga is outside of your yoga business, and (c) the teacher has an independent business that is the same as they work they do for you.
This is a very difficult burden for yoga studios to carry.
Assuming that you do not control your teachers and that they are running a bona fide yoga teaching business, it would be very difficult to show that your teacher’s business is different from your yoga studio business. Your case would be weaker than the seamstress example mentioned by the Court because the seamstress is sewing in your factory! This is especially true for those teachers who only teach at your studio. How can you say they are running an independent business that is separate than your business?
If you hire a workshop presenter who does not teach regular classes at your studio, you can make a good case that the presenter is an independent contractor.
The EDD has been targeting yoga studios for audits over the past several years, so yoga studios are no longer “flying under the radar” with regard to proper classification of yoga teachers. If you are audited, your chance of winning the audit has been dramatically reduced.
What Should You Do?
If you are in the process of launching a new yoga studio, I strongly recommend that you treat your teachers as employees. That way you will not need to worry about an audit; you are already in compliance with the tax laws.
If you are currently classifying your teachers as independent contractors, you should consider re-classifying your teachers as employees. Although this will not extinguish any liabilities you may have incurred due to improperly classifying your teachers in the past, you will have at least show a good faith attempt to follow the law and you will not be accruing any tax liabilities in the future.
Light on Law-A guide to independent contractors and employees for yoga studios and wellness businesses