THE LEGAL SIDE OF FITNESS
17March/2015

THE LEGAL SIDE OF FITNESS

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THE LEGAL SIDE OF FITNESS

In today’s overly litigious society, it’s important that personal trainers who operate independently are fully aware of the legal risks of running a fitness business. Nicole Evans explores some of the precautions you can take to protect yourself and your business.

When you set up your own personal training business, you’ll often enter into agreements with other parties, such as franchised gyms, hotels, studios, other contractors and even maybe employees. When doing so you can reduce your legal risk by ensuring you read the fine print and seek professional legal advice. Also, don’t sign anything until you know exactly what it says. 

Make sure you document everything; never assume because you have a verbal agreement that you are sufficiently covered. Have every agreement written down as a contract and ensure you know your rights under that contract and when/if the contract will be renewed. It is wise to include a clause in your terms and conditions to protect you from client cancellations and missed payments. As a PT, this is often one of the most frustrating matters to deal with. 

Start by writing down your own terms and conditions for each type of client and class, and then consult a lawyer who can draft it into legal terms. Keep the document simple, so that your clients understand them and will agree to them before you begin training them. Some key considerations may include:
• What will you charge your clients?
• Will you have different fees for different classes (e.g., one-on-one, group sessions, boot camps, gymbased sessions)?
• How will clients book and pay for their sessions?
• Will you have cancellation fees? If so, how much are they?
• How late will you permit clients to cancel before being liable to pay for the session?
• Will your clients pay on a per session basis, or will you sell prepackaged sessions?
• What type of training are you providing and will you offer other additional services such as nutrition, program writing or weight loss tracking? And if so, how much extra will you charge for these services?
• When your clients complete their pre-training questionnaire form (essential so you are aware of their medical history, limitations and physical capabilities), have you made it very clear how you will use this personal information?
• How will you provide your clients with a copy of the disclaimer or statement that ensures clients understand that they are entirely responsible for disclosing to you all important information that may affect the advice you give to them as a personal trainer?
• If a client is being rehabilitated from an injury, operation or has a disability, have they provided you with a written medical clearance from their health professional?

• If you are buying a franchise, have you sought professional advice so you understand all the implications and requirements of the franchise agreement? For
example, you may have restrictions placed on you including prices you can charge, where you can operate and maybe even where you are permitted to work if/when the agreement ends.
• What music will you use in your sessions/classes, and is it royaltyfree or do you need to buy a licence to play the music you want?
• Have you checked that your marketing/advertising is very clear and does not mislead or deceive clients?
• If you are training children, have you familiarised yourself with the Kids in Gyms Guidelines, which has separate rules that must be followed, including parent consent, holding a valid Working with Children Check and holding a Children’s Trainer or Children’s Instructor registration?
• As a PT business, you are a brand, so you may wish to protect that brand. Have you considered registering your business name and brand as a trademark with
Trademarks Australia? This means no one can use your business name and if you decide to sell your PT business, you are protecting the goodwill you have worked so hard to obtain. 

It is essential that when you have answers to the above and similar types of questions, you discuss it all with a lawyer to ensure that your policies comply with Australian and state laws. You may be able to exclude liability for some claims with a risk warning form, but your lawyer can clarify this.

WHAT TYPE OF INSURANCE DO YOU NEED?

The biggest risks in a PT’s job are often centred around:
• Causing an injury during a training session
• Providing wrong or unsuitable advice
• Providing nutrition advice and diet recommendations


As a personal trainer you are working with the human body, so injuries are bound to happen. However, when it does, your client may make a claim against you. Therefore, it’s important that you and your business are protected. The way to do this is via insurance. There are three main types of insurance that you could consider having:
1. Professional indemnity
2. Personal liability
3. Income protection


1. Professional indemnity insurance: This can help you defend and/or pay for claims made against you by a client or other person, who says that your advice or service as a PT was negligent (careless) and as a result they suffered some kind of loss. This loss could be in the form of an injury, damage to their property or
they may have suffered a loss of income. As a PT you are a professional and like any other advising professional (including lawyers) you need to protect yourself
from these claims. This is the role of professional indemnity insurance.


2. Public liability insurance: This can help you defend and/or pay for claims made against you relating to someone’s injury or damage to someone’s property which has been incurred as a result of how you operated your PT business. Be aware that this type of insurance will not cover you if you are negligent (i.e., if you do something silly like tell your clients to jump off a bridge…), but it can cover you against claims that result from a breach of the duty you owe to other people.

3. Income protection insurance: Essentially, this will ensure that should you be unable to work due to accident, injury or illness, you will still receive an income. Obviously the terms and conditions vary from insurer to insurer and you are typically subject to a rigorous health test prior to being approved for coverage, but it’s worth investigating and considering if you are a self-employed PT.


Make sure you examine and compare different insurers and their specific policies to ensure you have the most appropriate level of cover for the locations you’ll be working and the services you will be delivering. Always ask questions and read the fine print, and be sure to renew your insurance on time. If you are conducting outdoor sessions, make sure you get permission from the local council to use these areas, as many now require licences to do so. Read each council’s policies carefully as they will differ from region to region and be mindful that outdoor areas cannot be controlled like a gym environment, so you need to take extra care as a PT when working in that environment.


For more information about standards, guidelines and policies for personal trainers, visit fitness.org.au/guidelines.html


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