Common Approaches to Handling Group Exercise Instructor Compensation
Clubs across the U.S. handle exercise instructor compensation differently, but the two ways that pop up the most are:
- paying instructors hourly, and
- paying instructors as piece-rate employees.
Williams says she has seen informal surveys conducted by California clubs over the past few years indicating that even though most operators say they pay hourly, in reality, they treat instructors as piece-rate employees. Meaning a club pays an instructor per class rather than hourly.
"Instructors are usually paid a premium wage with the assumption this includes compensation for the setup and cleanup time before and after teaching their class," says Williams. "There are some operators, usually the larger chains, who are accurately paying per hour by requiring staff to clock-in for all time worked, including the time spent preparing and breaking down."
A few operators may still treat group exercise instructors as independent contractors, but it could be hard for these instructors to meet the newly established criteria under California regulations when it comes to fitness facilities.
Using One Compensation Structure Over the Other
According to Williams, the ease of piece-rate has made it the preferred method of payment for both operators and instructors alike. "Unlike hourly employees who are clocking in for an extended shift, instructors are usually in and out of the club within a short period, and they view time clocks as a cumbersome hindrance in their busy schedules," she says.
When competing for talent, some operators might be unable to attract new staff when their competition is paying what appears to be a more attractive piece-rate plan. No matter the compensation structure you choose, it is critical that you are complying with your state's law. What has worked for you for decades may not be the best solution as your club grows and moves forward.
It's All About Proper Documentation
When clubs do not manage and document accordingly, that's when Williams says they run into problems with paying piece-rate. If you are paying your staff at piece-rate, but the personnel files say you pay your staff hourly, then you may find yourself liable for failure to pay for time worked outside of teaching the class itself, and will have to pay back wages and penalties at the stated premium rate.
Tips and Suggestions for Clubs
"The safest approach for operators is to pay per hour by requiring instructors to clock in and out for all hours worked," says Williams.
Installation of time clocks in and near the studios helps to alleviate some of the complaints associated with this compensation approach. Operators can still adhere to their payroll budgets by determining the hourly equivalency of what they are paying per class.
For example, an instructor who was previously paid $45 for teaching a class would now receive $30 per hour. Assuming 15 minutes of additional time before and after class, the instructor would still receive $45 for teaching the class.