The New York State Court of Appeals ruled last week that some yoga instructors at Yoga Vida in New York City are independent contractors and not employees of the studio.

The 4-2 ruling from In the Matter of Yoga Vida NYC, Inc. on Oct. 25 reversed a lower court’s decision and is viewed as a win for Yoga Vida, which employs both staff instructors (classified as employees) and non-staff instructors (classified as independent contractors).

The court ruled that the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board’s determination that Yoga Vida exercised sufficient direction, supervision and control over the non-staff instructors to demonstrate an employment relationship is “unsupported by substantial evidence.” The court said the non-staff instructors make their own schedules, choose how they are paid and, unlike staff instructors, are paid only if a certain number of students attend their classes.

“Additionally, in contrast to the staff instructors, … the studio does not place any restrictions on where the non-staff teachers can teach, and the instructors are free to inform Yoga Vida students of classes they will teach at other locations so the students can follow them to another studio,” the court wrote in its memorandum. “Furthermore, only staff instructors, as distinct from non-staff instructors, are required to attend meetings or receive training.”

Elizabeth Harlan, an attorney for Yoga Vida, said in a statement to Law360 that the ruling is significant because it clarifies the standard that the New York state high court applies when an individual is an independent contractor and when he or she is an employee.

The case has had a long history, dating back to 2010. From Law360:

Yoga Vida appealed the New York Department of Labor’s 2010 ruling to an administrative law judge and won a reversal of that ruling in 2011. Then, the Labor Department commissioner appealed that ruling to the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board, which again reversed the prior decision and ruled in favor of the state. The appellate division affirmed the board’s ruling in 2014, and Yoga Vida appealed again.

Although the decision is viewed as a win for the yoga studio and other employers, they still bear responsibility over non-staff workers, according to attorneys Howard Wexler and Robert Whitman.

“The mere fact that a worker is labeled an ‘independent contractor’ and willing to work as such (without receiving minimum wage or an overtime premium) is not enough to remove the worker from the coverage of wage-hour laws,” the attorneys wrote for “Careful compliance for employers in classifying workers as independent contractors rather than employees remains as important as ever.”


Stuart Goldman is Editor of iClubs.