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The Yoga Teacherís Employment Contract, Part 1

Should yoga teachers have employment contracts? If so, what constitutes a legally binding contract? Whatís the best way to avoid mistakes and misunderstanding?

By Michael H. Cohen, J.D., M.B.A.

Finally, the legal element of consideration: a bargained-for exchange must occur. A classic definition of consideration is: some right, interest, profit, or benefit accruing to the one party or some forbearance, detriment, loss, or responsibility given, suffered, or undertaken by the other. For example, the consideration might be the yoga studio's payment to the teacher in exchange for the teacher leading classes. The studio forbears the money while the teacher forbears the time teaching.

Consideration does not always mean money received for work, however. The volunteer yoga teacher who gets college credit for teaching is receiving a bargained-for exchange; the element of consideration is therefore satisfied. A gift, in which the donor does not ask for anything in exchange for the donation, lacks consideration. Thus, promises made by a donor ("I'll teach for free for two weeks") are not enforceable. In short, to know you have a valid contract, be sure you have a valid offer, valid acceptance, and valid consideration.

It must be pointed out that the legal elements of a contract—offer, acceptance, and consideration-are not always straightforward. These elements can go awry when the parties fail to manifest essential agreement. One area in which agreement can get fouled up is that of "mistake." The classic case involved two parties contracting for sale of a supposedly barren cow. The cow, though, turned out to be pregnant, and was worth much more than the agreed-upon sale price. The court decided that if both parties thought the cow was barren, the contract would be voidable (meaning that either side could cancel the contract) on grounds of mutual mistake.

Most contracts with yoga teachers are for cash and not cows, but there can be mistakes about essential terms if the parties leave things too informal. The best way to avoid mutual mistakes is to ensure the legal agreement is in writing. Although some oral contracts are enforceable (we'll further discuss these in Part Two of this series), it is always best to set forth the essential terms of the agreement in plain, written English that is understandable to both sides. A longer document is not necessarily a wiser one, nor do rhetorical flourishes and Latin phrases improve a contract. And copying a form off the Internet can have hidden pitfalls as there may be specific provisions that tilt the bargain too far on one side or another (we'll discuss these in Part Three).

The purpose of the employment contract is to set forth each side's duties and obligations, including the criteria by which the employee's performance will be measured, the reasons for termination, what may happen in the event of termination, and conflict resolution mechanisms, if any. Staying fuzzy about the promises exchanged is unnecessary, distracting, and unhelpful.

Think of the contract in terms of yogic principles: clarity rules. Patanjali wrote that when the thought waves of the mind are stilled, we rest in our essence, which is bliss. Little roils up the thought waves of the mind like the prospect of a lawsuit, or trying to figure out one's legal rights and obligations because the contract is unclear. So the first word of advice to the yoga studio or teacher contemplating an employment contract: read the document carefully and be sure you understand every provision. If something is unintelligible, rewrite it (or ask your lawyer to rewrite it) in plain English so it is easily understandable. "Don't worry about that phrase" is not a satisfactory response to any question.

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