The Yoga Teacher's Employment Contract, Part 2
In Part 1 of The Yoga Teacher's Employment Contract, we looked at whether employment contracts between the yoga studio and yoga teacher are useful and appropriate, and whether such contracts can facilitate the professional relationship between the studio and the teacher. We also looked at the essential elements of a contract—an offer, an acceptance, and the bargained-for exchange known in the law as "consideration"—and how they might apply to the yoga studio-teacher contract.
In this column, we enrich that discussion by delving into some of the more detailed legal rules that can affect how yoga teachers can structure negotiated deals with yoga studios (or gyms and other institutional employers). We will also look at what can happen if the studio-teacher relationship changes, and/or either side fails to honor the legally binding promises it has made to the other.
Clarity is Key
Consider the classic case of Rose 2nd of Aberlone. The parties contracted for sale of a supposedly barren cow, but Rose 2nd turned out to be pregnant and thus to be worth much more than the sale price. The court decided that if both parties had thought the cow was barren, the contract would be voidable (meaning that either side could cancel the contract) on grounds of mutual mistake.
The case stands for the principle that by law, a legally binding contract has to manifest a "meeting of the minds" regarding the essential terms. If both parties make a mistake, there is no such meeting.
Most contracts with yoga teachers will be for cash and not cows, but there could be mistakes about essential terms if the parties leave things too informal. The best way to avoid mutual mistakes, and for the yoga studio and yoga teacher to have a true "meeting of the minds," is to ensure the legal agreement is in writing, setting forth the essential terms of the agreement, in plain 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.
Elements of the Contract
Whether hiring a lawyer or evaluating a contract someone else has drafted, 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. Obfuscation in the language will only cloud the relationship and exacerbate tensions if there is later disagreement. So the first word of advice to the yoga studio or teacher contemplating an employment contract is: 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 answer.