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The Battle Continues

The Feds have come a-knockin’…again. Time to get organized.

“It seems that New York State is working hard to reclassify just about any working person as an employee,” said Alison West, Yoga for New York’s Executive Director , Board Chair and founder of the Yoga Union studio.

This includes freelance yoga teachers. “And this could run yoga businesses into the ground.” Once again, the State doesn’t understand the inner workings of the yoga industry.

“The State employee questionnaire and guidelines are out of date,” West added, when asked what will be discussed this Friday.

Auditors consider several factors when evaluating employee vs. IC status. One is the amount of control an employer has over a worker. But “control” is an ambiguous term. For instance, “they ask teachers if they bring their own ‘tools’ to teach,” West said. Most studios provide props, so everyone says no, and businesses are snagged.

But props are optional, not compulsory tools. “The only essential tools a teacher needs are their class sequences and their music, if they use it,” West continued. “Studios need to prepare themselves more carefully if they want to maintain legitimate IC status for their teachers.”

Another issue, a recent case between the State and Yoga Vida owner Mike Patton has everybody riled up.

In 2010, Patton was forced to reclassify his teachers as employees and suffered the consequences. “The State court has already set the precedent…this will hurt many studios – and sadly not benefit the teachers,” Patton said.

His case was appealed and he’s now waiting to be granted a hearing in the NY State Court of Appeals.

“We hope the case will be heard,” West said, worried that if it isn’t, the State’s prior appeal will be used as a precedent in future law suits. “We need to look at what is really involved and prepare to deal with it.”

Which brings yet another issue to the table.

Contrary to what was recently published and then debated on the Internet, a “blanket ruling” won’t be issued by the State. No two audits are alike and not all yoga businesses will have to reclassify their teachers.

But they may have to if they’re not careful. Precautions can be taken to avoid reclassification.

At 12:30pm this Friday, October 17, Yoga for NY will meet at West’s Yoga Union on 28th St to discuss the current situation. The event is free and pre-registration is requested. On the checklist: how businesses can avoid reclassification and how more members of the community can become involved.

This isn’t the first time yogis have banded together to handle legal matters.

The first time was back in 2009, when the State taxed yoga businesses the same amount as fitness studios and gyms. Yoga for NY was established, and the hard work paid off. In 2012, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance abdicated their claim. A victory.

“I hope this ‘battle’ gets to the point where creating community awareness will help,” said Patton. But first, “we need to make Yoga for NY more than just an ad hoc emergency platform,” West added.

Hopefully, this meeting will do just that.

-Michael Laskaris

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