The recent filing of a class action lawsuit against SoulCycle, an industry leader in the increasingly trendy indoor cycling craze, has placed the popular fitness company in the middle of the ongoing battle against misclassification of independent contractors. Central to this discussion are issues of overtime pay, off the clock work, and appropriate classification of an employer’s workforce.
These issues, as they relate to SoulCycle’s and all spinning studio’s fitness instructors, have increasingly given rise to overtime lawsuits. This might be a consequence of the faster than average growth in the profession (fitness instructors have a 24% growth rate compared to the average 14%). However, the more plausible reason for the increased attention is the perpetual failure of fitness companies to pay instructors overtime or “gap time” for “off the clock” hours. This practice, indicative of an industry-wide standard of shirking the law, has effectively shortchanged employees on wages lawfully owed. Spinning studios have avoided their obligation by resorting to two common overtime scams: (i) by misclassifying instructors as ineligible independent contractors; or (ii) by requiring instructors to perform “off the clock” work, before and/or after, their scheduled classes.
Classifying fitness instructors as independent contractors allows companies to deny their instructors access to critical benefits and protections afforded to employees – particularly overtime pay – to which they are most likely entitled. Both the state and federal government closely scrutinize the independent contractor status used by businesses and are cracking down on misclassification. While the distinction between independent contractor and employee status may seem simple, it’s not. The intricacies of the law in this field are complicated and fact specific. Just because your employer classifies you as an independent contractor does not automatically mean the law views you as such. Employees and employers alike are advised to seek consultation from an employment lawyer before making judgments on the propriety of workforce classification.
As a quick primer for fitness instructors, understand that if your employer exerts sufficient direction and control over the services you perform then you’re most likely an employee, not an independent contractor. When a gym or fitness studio directs their instructors on such things as when, where, and how to perform their work and/or provides training on how to perform their jobs, then the instructors in question will be considered employees. Furthermore, if the company controls advertisements of the services provided and purchases or reimburses instructors for tools, equipment, office materials, etc., then the owner is treating the instructor like an employee. Finally, another important factor to consider is whether or not the company insists on non-compete agreements between instructors and the local facilities. While an employee can legally be barred from working at other facilities, providing private sessions, and often cannot refuse assignments, the same is not true of independent contractors.
In the case of fitness instructors, to truly be an independent contractor, you must have the right to control the details of your classes and/or training sessions and the specific methods utilized. Also, an independent contractor cannot be precluded from seeking employment opportunities elsewhere, while simultaneously working for a particular company.
Second, by requiring fitness instructors to perform “off the clock” work, employers are subtly garnishing wages. This is even more egregious when the time worked is beyond the 40 hour workweek, meaning the instructor should get paid overtime. When added up, you will be shocked to realize the the dollar amounts owed for time “off the clock” add up quickly.
Particularly good examples of these practices are in the SoulCycle lawsuit. The instructor who filed the lawsuit claims SoulCycle only compensates its instructors for time spent teaching classes, and has failed to compensate them for the numerous hours spent training, preparing for classes, developing routines, compiling playlists, communicating with customers, attending meetings, and engaging in marketing for the studios. SoulCycle instructors, like most other fitness instructors, are required to work dozens of hours beyond the time instructing a class; however, they are only compensated for the 45 to 90 grueling minutes spent teaching.
Adding insult to injury, it’s the instructors who draw the clients into the classes with their upbeat positive attitudes—some even with a cult like following—therefore, fitness companies should not be profiting at their instructors’ expense. Thus, if you are fitness instructor and believe you have been misclassified as an independent contractor or that you’re not compensated for all hours worked then I suggest you seek the advice of an attorney specializing in the field.