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Court denies yoga teachers benefits: Will it set a precedent?

The New York Court of Appeals decided a case last month concerning the employment rights of yoga teachers employed by the yoga studio, Yoga Vida NYC. The court deemed that the teachers were independent contractors, and therefore they are not entitled to the same benefits employees are entitled to.

Does this case set a precedent for future cases regarding yoga teachers? What should yoga studios, yoga instructors and employees in general know about this ruling? Let's take a look at several important points to keep in mind about this case.

What were the facts of the case?

The case against Yoga Vida NYC was filed by a single yoga teacher who received 1099 income for yoga teaching services. When the teacher became unemployed, the instructor requested unemployment benefits. The unemployment insurance division determined that the teacher should receive said benefits and should be considered as an employee, not as an independent contractor.

The ruling was later appealed by a group of instructors employed by Yoga Vida. The Court of Appeals decided that the group of instructors were independent contractors, not employees, and therefore they could not receive unemployment benefits.

Different businesses function differently

Although the case against Yoga Vida NYC did not award the yoga instructors employee status, and thereby denied them certain employee benefits, it does not necessarily create a legal precedent for future cases. As such, yoga studios and teachers should by no means rely on this ruling when deciding how to proceed with their business operations and careers.

Administrative agencies and courts have made it clear on numerous occasions that cases like the one against Yoga Vida NYC must rely on their own facts. Because businesses do not tend to operate exactly the same way, their employees may work in different kinds of capacities. As such, cases like this one may not serve as precedent, and future cases will still need to be decided on a case by case basis.

Even businesses in the same industry are not the same

New York and the rest of the nation have seen more and more independent contractors bringing claims against their employers regarding their employment classification. However, even among cases from the same business industry, outcomes can vary depending on the details of the unique relationship between the worker and his or her employer.

For example, let's consider a yoga teacher who is required to work a specific and regular schedule of 40 hours a week at a yoga studio, and, in addition to teaching classes, performs office tasks and other job duties. This individual might be considered a full-time employee entitled to benefits by the court.

Conversely, let's consider a yoga teacher who has a regular schedule of teaching three 1-hour classes per week at a yoga studio without any further responsibilities, and can come and go as he or she pleases. This individual would likely be deemed an independent contractor. Both are teachers in the same industry, but they work in different capacities.

Do you have questions about worker classification?

When determining whether an individual is an employee or independent contractor, courts must review countless different facts. Independent contractors who fear that they are being denied benefits may want to discuss their situations with a New York employee benefits law attorney to understand their rights. Just as importantly, employers may want to discuss their business models with a lawyer to ensure that their employment practices comply with the law.

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