By Doug Lipsky, Bronson Lipsky LLP
Discussing employment law typically makes people as excited as when an instructor announces at the end of class, “Good news, 100 burpees and then we are done.” But fitness and employment law often overlap. Here are some of the questions that I am most often asked.
What happens if an employee gets injured at a company-provided gym?
Companies can be held liable in injury lawsuits, including a workers compensation claim. While many companies require employees to sign waivers, those are rarely iron-clad — particularly where the company stocked the facility with substandard, poorly maintained equipment, or staffed it with untrained workers.
Can studios require their instructors to follow a dress code?
Yes, provided they do not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion, disability, etc. This essentially gives studios meaningful flexibility when writing a dress code policy. They could, for example, have a policy that states no body art may be displayed at work. Most importantly, gyms need to be practical and consistent with their dress codes.
What should studios do if an employee has an eating disorder or if the studio thinks an employee has one?
Under New York law, an eating disorder is considered a disability. This means an employee with an eating disorder is a member of a protected class. This protection also applies to employees who the employer thinks has an eating disorder.
As a consequence of this protected class status, an employer cannot fire, demote, or suspend the individual for having an eating disorder. An employer also has an obligation to reasonably accommodate that employee if the employee asks for help. These accommodations could include flexible scheduling, modified break schedules, or taking a leave of absence.
If a studio suspects an employee has an eating disorder, the safest legal course of action is not to approach that individual. It should, instead, issue company-wide reminders about its “open door policy,” and about the company’s sick leave policy, and (if based in NYC) NYC’s paid sick leave law.
Can fitness studios require instructors to sign non-compete agreements?
Yes, but the restrictions must be reasonable if they are to be enforceable. For example, in a lawsuit involving Pure Power, a court held that their 10 year non-compete with a global geographic scope was unreasonable — to put it mildly. New York courts tend to be hostile to non-compete provisions that are longer than one year, and even more hostile when it involves a broad geographic scope. These issues tend to move in tandem: a court is generally more willing to enforce a longer restricted period if the geographic scope is smaller.
What to do if one employee is sexually harassing another?
An employer has an affirmative obligation to provide a workplace free from unlawful harassment. As a corollary to this, an employer has an obligation to intervene if they became aware of this harassment. Employees should also feel comfortable to report any harassment under the “open door policy.”
What to do if two employees start dating each other?
Nothing says love like employment law — but this is an issue to be proactive about. A “love contract” is a good idea because it helps to ensure, as much as possible, the employees are willingly entering this relationship, which will help defend against any sexual harassment claim that might pop up down the road.