Covid-Proof Legal Essentials for Gym Owners in 2021

2020 has changed the way we work. This is the checklist of legal essentials that every gym owner needs to consider going into 2021

Cory Sterling
December 15, 2020
2020 has changed the way we work. This is the checklist of legal essentials that every gym owner needs to consider going into 2021

Guest Post: Cory Sterling is the Founder of the heart-leading law firm Conscious Counsel, a lawyer, and yoga teacher

COVID-19 has completely changed how the fitness world operates. The laws and regulations that were in place prior to the pandemic have changed. As a result (and in order to keep your business protected), your legal agreements must change too.

Look, I get it. Dealing with the law is not always fun. It’s not what you want to spend your time on. But it’s super important for your business and gym, especially with COVID.

As an attorney who has worked with hundreds of fitness studio owners and professionals, there are certain steps you can (and should) take to ensure your business, practice or studio is secure in this new legal landscape.

As we move into the new year, here are the key legal essentials (COVID-proof) to have in place for a strong, secure foundation.

Operational demands have changed for gyms in response to Covid-19. Your liability waivers should reflect those updates.

Update Your Waiver of Liability

In its most basic form, a waiver protects you from being sued. Whether for a regular membership, hosting a fitness class or teaching via Zoom or Instagram Live, you’ll need a waiver of liability before working with your clients.

The following is a 4-step guide to a locked and loaded waiver of liability for your heart-leading business:

  • Clearly define the activity you and your client will participate in: what is your role in this activity and what does the activity entail?
  • Communicate the risks: be open and honest in your communication including what can go wrong in the course of the activity.
  • Client makes a choice: does the client understand the risks involved and voluntarily agree to engage in the activity?
  • Client signature: have the client sign the waiver to waive future claims and release you from liability.

The key is to be open, honest, and clear. A waiver will not apply to protect your business if that waiver contains ambiguous terms. This is why it is so important that you understand your business and just what parts of your business your waiver of liability covers.

You’ll also want to pair your waiver of liability with professional liability insurance - a match made in legal heaven. The amount and type of insurance you purchase could cover anything over + above the contents of your waiver of liability.

COVID Proof: Whether you like it or not, having a client test positive for COVID-19 is a possibility you need to be prepared for. Have a legal waiver in place that includes specific language about students taking a risk of contracting COVID-19 while participating in classes. By doing so, you’re no longer liable for COVID-19 related issues that may arise. Paying a small fee for a legal document that protects you from COVID-19 related legal issues is a no brainer!

Time to Re-evaluate Your Service Agreements

Update your membership or service agreements to protect your business from chargebacks or disputes. Adding some simple legal language goes a long way in protecting you against cancellations or terminations made outside the scope of your agreement.

For example, define your services as being offered BOTH online and in-person so you aren’t entitled to a refund if you cannot offer in-person classes. You should also add a force majeure clause to your agreements to protect you from unforeseeable circumstances that might prevent you from fulfilling your contract.

Be Proactive: Resign Agreements Now

Use this drastic change in the fitness industry and the way in which we provide our services as a catalyst to get all of your agreements down in writing. Understand and be confident in your relationships. There has never been a better time to re-organize your written agreements to suit the new needs of your business.

This is your #1 opportunity to make sure everyone you have a business relationship with has signed an agreement that openly and honestly communicates your expectations.

Properly Identify Employer vs. Contractor Agreements

Are the amazing individuals that help your heart-leading business considered employees or as contractors? This is one of the most common (and most important) agreements you will come across in your business, as there are operational and legal implications that attach to each class. What’s the difference?

Employees are generally under more of the employer’s control than are contractors: they have set hours, complete work as instructed, use the business’ property to carry out their tasks, and may wear the business logo or uniform. Employees have rights under employment legislation - think maximum hours, statutory holiday pay, or rules around leaves of absence. And since you love and trust your employees, you’ll want to make sure their legal entitlements are respected.

A Contractor is essentially an individual or a group with a specialization who you hire to perform work for your business. They have control over their schedule, the freedom to choose how they carry out their work, they use their own materials, and may contract out their services to many different people or businesses at once. Think of a bookkeeper, graphic designer, or an expert in the trades.

Why does it matter?

In short, the distinction between employees and contractors matters because of the tax implications. As a business owner paying an employee, you deduct taxes for them and this is reflected on the employee’s pay stub. But when you pay a contractor, you pay them in full and they are responsible for taking care of their own taxes later.

So, think of employees and contractors as two separate streams. How they each navigate their path is different, their tasks and processes are unique. But they return to the same body of water, the ocean that is your business.

Learn and Adhere to Municipal Laws

Depending on where you live, your jurisdiction will give you instructions on the parameters of which you’re allowed (or are not allowed) to practice. We’ve worked with yoga professionals in countries all around the world, and the principles are typically the same but some nuances are different.

Make sure to review the municipal laws of your jurisdiction and plan to follow them. These laws could include regulations on indoor/outdoor classes, entry access, gathering size, protective gear, and cleaning standards.

Strictly adhere to these rules. If you don’t, a client could make a negligence claim against you, which would expose you to liability. Following the rules is the easiest and most basic way to protect you and your business. Our tip? Post the rules publicly in your studio. Have a Zoom call with your staff, record it, and discuss the rules, and keep each other accountable!

Be Proactive. Be safe. Have Fun! The World Needs You

While this period of time has challenged the fitness industry, it has presented us with an opportunity to strengthen our businesses. Use this time to be strategic: make your business stronger, and more legally protected than ever.

Last but not least, thank you. The world needs wellness now more than ever. It’s leaders like YOU who choose to show up that make a difference.


If you are interested in any of Conscious Counsel’s COVID-19 Legal Packages or if you are looking for legal help in this new commercial landscape, contact us today and mention you are with the PushPress community to receive 10% off your future Conscious Counsel legal agreement.

Would you like a free fitness legal checklist to ensure you’re at best legal practices for your gym? You can access that for free here.


Cory Sterling

Cory Sterling is the Founder of the heart-leading law firm Conscious Counsel, a lawyer, yoga teacher, and real human. He wrote The Yoga Law Book and has served hundreds of fitness professionals and studio owners around the world. In 2019 he won the award for "Highest Rated Session" at MindBody Bold and stays committed every day to teach about the law in a FUN and practical way.

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