Cory Sterling is a lawyer and founder of the law firm Conscious Counsel which serves the yoga, Pilates, and fitness industries. He is the author of The Yoga Law Book: Legal Essentials For Yoga Professionals which can also be applied to Pilates. In our webinar with Cory, he shares his advice for studio owners on how to legally protect themselves in order to re-open during the pandemic.
Cory believes the single biggest risk for studio owners is that the majority don’t have insurance policies that cover communicable diseases. Make sure to include a COVID release in your new waiver. In his experience, liability waivers that have been challenged were ones that were upheld to be null and void or that were ambiguously or not clearly drafted. Teaching virtually also requires a different waiver that is specific and covers the risks of online practice.
Most service and membership agreements studio owners previously had in place only specified in-studio services and were therefore invalid during closures. Cory explains that studio owners who tried to collect membership fees during closures were unsuccessful because clients would challenge the charge with their credit card company claiming it was unjust, and companies would side with the credit card holder due to the inability to provide the services stated. This can be avoided in the future by describing the services you provide as both online and in person.
Make sure the agreement states that your teacher is voluntarily returning to work and understands the risks. This protects studio owners by preventing situations where a person states that they felt obligated to return for any reason. Also, include a COVID release.
Do everything you can to thoroughly learn the rules of your county, municipality, and state. Cory recommends government websites as the best and most reliable source of information, not second-hand information you receive through a friend or social media posts. The greatest exposure to liability and the easiest way to site negligence is by not following the government implemented laws.
Once you have educated yourself, go out of your way to make it clear that you are following the new guidelines. Print and post the new rules throughout your studio and make sure your waivers legally bind clients to these rules. Cory also suggests having a Zoom meeting with your entire team, reading the new rules to everyone, and recording the meeting. Having evidence of the meeting provides further proof that you did as much as possible to enforce new policies in the case of a claim against your studio.
Post new procedures on your website and on social media.
Be transparent about how your studio has changed. Honesty gives people the power to choose for themselves how they want to practice and allows you to maintain a respectful relationship with your clients.
Everyone’s businesses are being forced to evolve at this time, and you can use it as an opportunity to pivot your business to make it better. He is a huge advocate of Pilates and is sure that the industry will continue to grow and expand beyond these challenging times.
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