Sports & Fitness Insurance Corp. (SFIC) has exclusively served the fitness industry since 1985. They offer general liability insurance including professional liability, property insurance, umbrellas, workers compensation and surety bonds for health clubs and fitness studios, as well as yoga and Pilates Studios, dance studios, martial arts schools and personal trainers and group exercise instructors in all 50 states and Canada. Jennifer Urmston Lowe shares some insight into three of the most relevant insurance questions and answers for today’s fitness professional.

Q: Am I covered for insurance by the health club where I work?

A: This question is the single most important and most common question that fitness professionals ask. The answer is determined by the contract that the fitness professional has with the facility where they are working. The employment contract with the health club or studio should state whether the personal trainer or group exercise instructor is an employee or an independent contractor and whether the individual is covered on the facility’s insurance.

Due to changes in state laws, many more health clubs classify their group exercise instructors and personal trainers as employees now than in the past. A fitness professional hired as an employee should be covered by the facility’s policy. This should always be verified because insurance contracts are different. Some general liability insurance policies exclude professional liability coverage. Personal trainers and group exercise instructors must always verify that they are covered by the insurance policy of the facility where they will be working and that it includes coverage for professional liability.

Most general liability and professional liability insurance policies for health clubs will exclude coverage for independent contractors. Any fitness professional working as an independent contractor should carry their own professional liability insurance policy to protect themselves. An individual professional liability policy typically costs less than $200 per year and covers an individual everywhere they train clients or teach classes. A facility will usually require an independent contractor to provide proof of their own individual insurance coverage via a certificate of insurance.

Fitness professionals who teach any private clients outside of the health club where they work must carry their own professional liability insurance policy because they are not covered by their club for private clients, whether they are an employee or independent contractor.

Q: Do I need extra coverage for the new classes I am teaching?

A: As the fitness industry expands to reach more people with different needs and interests, the fitness professional’s job is evolving to include more diverse teaching. It is important for fitness professionals to make sure that their insurance coverage will provide coverage for all of the new opportunities that they want to pursue. Whether adding new classes or working with new populations, a group exercise instructor or personal trainer should verify that their insurance will cover the new activity.

Additional coverage or higher limits may be needed when working with special populations or when teaching new classes. In order to provide more coverage, some insurance programs will want to verify that the fitness professional has received any special training needed to teach a new type of fitness class. Almost all carriers will want to verify that a personal trainer has received the appropriate training to work with a special population. Special populations could include people with specific medical conditions or special needs that could put that group of people more at risk for injury.

The movement of the fitness industry towards inclusion for special populations is growing and is highly commendable. Fitness professionals need to keep in mind, however, that they should only work within the scope of their own training and refer clients to qualified trainers if they are not trained to work with them themselves. Keeping client safety first is always the primary consideration for all fitness professionals.

Q: Do I need to be concerned about any impact of the increasing headlines for sexual harassment claims?

A: Insurance carriers are seeing sexual abuse claims growing at a tremendous rate in the United States across industries. Rather than worry, fitness professionals should take steps to protect themselves and their clients. Personal trainers and group exercise instructors can protect themselves by purchasing sexual abuse and molestation coverage on their general liability and/or professional liability insurance policies. They can protect their clients by making sure that background checks are performed on any trainer that works for them and on all fitness professionals in the facilities where they work.

Additionally, a fitness professional can protect themselves, their business and their clients by doing everything possible to keep the words that they say and the things that they do with their clients professional at all times. Overly-familiar communication or touch can be misinterpreted by another person or can be offensive to another person. It is not appropriate in a professional setting today.

Fitness professionals that work as independent contractors or own their own business should be aware that their own intentional acts are usually not covered on an individual general liability or professional liability policy. This means that their insurance policy that includes coverage for sexual abuse and molestation would pay to defend them against a claim of sexual abuse, but it would not cover them for damages if they are convicted of an intentional act of wrong doing.

Most general liability including professional liability policies in the fitness industry include a sublimit for sexual abuse and molestation coverage of $100,000 per occurrence. There is usually additional premium charged for higher limits, such as a $1,000,000 limit. The higher limit may also require additional questions to be answered regarding protection for clients. In the past, the underwriting for higher limits for sexual abuse and molestation coverage were focused on protecting minors. Today there is great emphasis on protecting adults as well.

Taking steps to protect themselves and their clients from sexual abuse will elevate the professionalism of the fitness industry and benefit fitness professionals and their businesses in the long run.