the yoga teacher fired for asking her class to put cell phones away

Have you seen this story about the yoga instructor who was fired from teaching yoga classes at the Facebook headquarters because she glared at a participant who wouldn’t put away her cell phone during class?

When she was fired, she was told by the company that contracts with Facebook to provide their fitness programs, “We are in the business of providing great customer service. Unless a client requires us to specifically say no to something, we prefer to say yes whenever possible.”

The employee told the San Francisco Chronicle, “The culture of these places is to let them do whatever they want, and I’m just not really OK with anarchy. I understand the world still happens and there might be emergencies, but it’s like, can we have some sort of boundary, a line of what we’re not going to accept bringing into this class.”

I’m writing about this here because I think the yoga instructor is completely missing the point– and so is much of the coverage of the story. She’s entirely entitled to her opinions about what is and isn’t appropriate in her class — and she may be perfectly right. But when you disagree with your employer about something, you need to work those issues out behind the scenes. You can’t just insist on doing it the way you want, your employer be damned.

In fact, ideally this is a question of fit that you explore during a hiring process and before you accept a job: Are you sufficiently philosophically aligned? Are you clear on the expectations on both sides? If there are places where you differ, are you able to abide by the way they want it done, or convince them to try your way?

What you can’t do is to just plunge ahead with your way, simply because you believe you’re right. If there are differences, you need to surface them and figure out if they can be resolved. If they can’t, you either accept that the employer — who’s paying for the work — has the final word, or you find another job. It’s not about who’s right or wrong — it’s about the fact that you need to be philosophically aligned or at least willing to operate as if you are.

Now, to be fair, I’d be taking a less harsh tone if the employee had never had this issue come up before and she handled it in good faith and got fired without a warning. (Although I’d still say that she should have done a better culture and alignment check before accepting the job.) But news reports say that she’d already been warned not to be overly rigid with rules in her classes previously, so she was already on notice that there was a philosophical difference with her employer.

Philosophical alignment: It’s a real thing, and it’s pretty key in your success at work.

{ 126 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie*

    I love that you sidestepped the specious argument about cell phones and addressed the real issue – which is about adhering to workplace rules.

    ITA – if you don’t like the rules it should be addressed behind the scenes.

    If you can’t get that changed it doesn’t absolve anyone from having to follow them.

  2. Anonymous*

    It’s a rule of life that you are good at what you practice most. Teachers mostly practice speaking and telling, not listening. It’s not a big part of the job. All my teacher friends are not very skilled at active listening. This yoga teacher sounds like…well, a teacher.

    1. Ariancita*

      Yes, I was thinking that maybe because she’s an instructor of her own class, she’s used to being able to dictate the rules of her classroom. Not so much about active listening as it is about most teachers, whether it’s an exercise class or a school class, have some degree of autonomy about how their class is run.

    2. Henning Makholm*

      Really? The reason why we have teachers at all, rather than just distribute literature and video lectures is that an actual live teacher can interactively adjust her delivery to what the audience needs, what they have trouble understanding, what they don’t need to have explained again, and so forth. That involves listening as an essential part of the job.

      It may well be that many teachers are not very good at that part of their job, but that doesn’t make it any less their job.

    3. Kelly*

      I’m with Henning – for a good teacher, listening is a HUGE part of the job. Teachers that don’t do it well don’t last long in a good organization or district. And although usually you have some autonomy, good luck getting tenure if you do not use that autonomy to support the mission and overarching policies of the organization.

      Tenured teachers…maybe? But I don’t think they offer tenure to yoga instructors…

  3. KayDay*

    I’m totally with you regarding philosophical aliment (and really love that you approached your commentary from this angle!!).

    However, I do think that despite the problem with the difference in philosophy, I think the burden is also on the company to make it really clear when their philosophy diverges sharply from the norm.

    “…[the] incident was part of a pattern of strict behavior on Van Ness’ part; she had previously asked a Cisco employee not to take photographs of the class while it was in session.”

    I’m not much of a yoga enthusiast, but when I do take a class, I certainly do NOT want anyone taking a picture of me in downward dog or dead bug. Her “strict” requests were pretty basic, and have been a part of every exercise/dance class I have ever taken. If the company is going to take a view that is out of the norm for the industry, the company really needs to do a better job explaining this at the interview. I can’t really blame the yoga instructor for not asking, “how would you feel about an instructor banning cell phones and pictures from a class,” when most classes have such bans.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think that’s fair — but the Cisco incident should have sparked a discussion that would have prevented the cell phone incident.

      1. Ariancita*

        Exactly. If she had already been warned about this, and it sounds like she has, then what is and is not ok in her classroom should have been discussed. Also, maybe I’m naive, but if I was leading a yoga class for one of the worlds largest social networking companies, I’d just expect and accept that all sorts of texting, chatting, and…facebooking would happen.

      2. ThomasT*

        KayDay makes exactly the point I was planning to. And from the SF Gate article, it’s hard to tell how different the Cisco situation was. Was the would-be photographer a participant in the class? If so, then, yes, VanNess should have had that conversation then. It would also have been an opportunity for the company to make clearer its expectations about how their instructors run classes and interact with the company’s clients. They may in fact have done that. But what if it was someone from the recruiting team wanting to shoot pictures to show off employee benefits? I don’t know that I would reasonably transfer an admonition to allow that to allowing actual class participants to use phones during class.

        The other point that struck me is that she’s almost certainly a contract employee rather than a regular employee. I say that both because that’s the norm for that type of business, and the fact that the article says she “continues to teach at studios in Los Altos, Palo Alto and Milpitas.” Contractor relationships, for better or for worse, often get less scrutiny from both sides than regular hires, so there’s less focus on elements like that.

        However slowly, she did ultimately learn the lessson, as the article says she “protested at first, but later decided she would be happier elsewhere.” Not everybody reads smart management bloggers before they enter the workforce.

        1. AMG*

          I don’t know how much it would have mattered to most of the participants. Like HELL am I going to allow the company to put up a picture of me doing yoga on the website or anywhwere else, even if I do work there.

          If the ultimate reason for firing her is so that the employees are more impowered, then all the more reason to NOT take pictures.

    2. Risa*

      If it’s a company provided benefit, and as a part of your employment you signed an appropriate photography release, they would be able to take a photo of you in yoga class, whether you wanted them to or not. Hopefully the photographer and art director are smart enough to realize the warrior pose is much better looking than downward dog….

      I was once in a gym yoga class where a woman walked in halfway to get a mat to use outside. All the mats that are usually outside the yoga room were taken by the yoga class and none were left for the other members of the gym. The yoga instructor FLIPPED out, yelling at the woman, telling her he would have her 86’d from the club if she ever dared to walk into his class again. During the final meditation he continued to verbally brood about the incident, commenting that the woman would complain about him and asked that his students defend him for protecting the sanctity of the yoga class. I was so disturb by the vitriol of his rant and the way he spoke to her that I complained about him immediately following the class and never attended another one when he was the instructor.

  4. HR Gorilla*

    This is timely…a friend of mine was fired recently for distributing flyers to her students’ parents (she was an elementary school teacher at a private school). The flyers were advertising her daughter’s babysitting services. Since she got fired, she’s been posting on Facebook about how unfair the school was to her…and also about state unemployment agency denying her benefits. As someone who responds to UI claims and participates in UI appeal hearings every week, that’s a very telling detail: the school most likely was able to prove that they had a pre-established policy against soliciting business from parents, and that employees had been made aware of that policy.

    I sympathize with my friend and I get it: her heart was in the right place. She’s a born networker and a great all-around person, but what counts is what the school’s policy was. That’s getting lost in the Facebook comments though, which are all “your employer will cheat and steal your unemployment from you!” etc etc…and that’s so not the point. I feel for her but thus far have refrained from any comment beyond sympathizing.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, that one was pretty foreseeable, I think. I hope she comes to realize her error in time.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This probably makes me an annoying friend, but I’d be tempted to ask, “Had they ever told you that you weren’t allowed to do that?”

      1. HR Gorilla*

        Allison–I’ve been very tempted to ask just that! But she hasn’t responded to my individual offer to help with the appeal hearing, and I definitely don’t want to wade into the fray of the Facebook comments thread. ;)

  5. Ariancita*

    You’re spot on with this. I know there are certain things that are deal breakers for me philosophically, and I suss those out in the interview stage and make my decision based on what I hear. I touched on it a bit in the thread about the trainee being difficult. For me, I need the flexibility to bring in best practices if they’re not already used and there is no good reason that, and to innovate. This is important not only for job satisfaction, but also for professional development. If I have to do things in a backward way, not only is it frustrating, but it also means that my skill set in that area is going to degrade. But these fit issues need to be addressed at the interview stage, not once you’re hired. If for some reason the yoga instructor was blind sided by it, her choices were to adapt or move on, not just do it her way, even after warnings. That doesn’t seem very smart.


    I’m a pretty dedicated yogini and practice regularly. If someone answered a phone in class, I would expect the teacher to ask them to put it away and remind us all to put them on vibrate before we come into class. People aren’t allowed to arrive late and are discouraged from leaving early, so as not disturb other students.

    BUT… That’s at a dedicated yoga studio. This isn’t a yoga studio. It’s Facebook. Facebook is employing this teacher to add a perk for its employees, during work hours. Expectations are different. This isn’t anarchy; it’s about working in an environment where people are always “on,” which means they’re going to be expected to access email/texts/whatever during whenever they’re away from their desks. That’s the way it is. Do I think it’s antithetical to yoga? Yes. But it’s not the teacher’s responsibility to change Facebook’s culture. It’s her responsibility to teach yoga the way Facebook wants it taught.

    This has been blowing up on all the yoga blogs, which have gotten very anti-Facebook, anti-corporate, which isn’t fair to the situation.

    1. Emily*


      If it were a dedicated yoga studio, or even at a general gym where yoga classes were held, I’d be among the other attendees (i.e. customers) with a contradictory demand on the teacher—to enforce the traditional no cell phone policy. If an instructor’s practice was to overlook that tradition, I’d find another class.

      In this case, the other attendees might have agreed with the instructor’s principles or they might have agreed with their coworker’s, but when it comes down to it, at their employer’s headquarters, they are as much at the mercy of their company culture as the instructor is to hers.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I suspect this is probably a case of the fitness management company that she worked for (which contracts with Facebook) being stupid, for exactly the reason you pointed out: While some attendees might want to talk on their phones, others want them not to. You can’t “say yes” to both groups. If the company were smart, they would have negotiated sensible ground rules with Facebook, but instead I bet they’re going with some vague “always say yes” when that doesn’t work in real life.

        It still doesn’t change the fact that the yoga teacher needed to operate the way her employer told her to (or work somewhere else) though.

        1. Vicki*

          I’m afraid that I have to side with the Yoga teacher here. “Always say yes” is a Very Bad way to work. She’s better off not teaching for that contractor. Unfortunately, the Facebook employees are the one who will suffer.

          Seriously – a Yoga class with participants talking on their cel phones? WHo des this??

          1. Mike C.*

            I don’t know, maybe a workplace where people might be expected to respond to business emergencies at a moment’s notice?

            1. KellyK*

              It’s totally antithetical to the whole concept of yoga, though. If people can’t unplug for an hour (even by getting someone else to cover for them), yoga isn’t a logical perk to offer, and some other exercise class would make more sense.

              Also, the participant wasn’t leaving her phone on vibrate in case of emergency. She was tapping away in the middle of class, which is both rude and distracting.

              None of that changes underlying “their location, they’re paying, their rules” aspect, but I can completely understand a yoga teacher being completely baffled by an expectation that they allow cell phone use during class.

              1. Student*

                Look, some people do Yoga to unplug and to follow a philosophy while getting some exercise.

                Some people do it because it’s the trendy exercise of the year, or they feel it’s the best actual exercise they can get but don’t care about the philosophy side.

                This is America and we can cater to both groups without insulting one of them.

                1. KellyK*

                  I’m not insulting anyone who looks at yoga just as a workout and not as a philosophy. (When I do it, it’s primarily for stress relief.) *But* quiet and meditation are a pretty standard part of the activity.

                  Asking a yoga teacher to allow constant interruptions is similar to asking a zumba teacher to turn off the music. If music carries across the building and distracts people who are working, there’s a valid issue, but it means that the activity being offered doesn’t mesh with the work environment.

              2. Emily*

                It’s definitely a situation where most if not everyone involved must make compromises in order to enjoy at least some benefit of the yoga class perk: the other participants, the instructor, perhaps the cell phone user (I think it would be impossible to argue whether that particular cell phone use was urgently necessary—it’s too objective), and even Facebook and the fitness management company. It comes down to who was willing to make those compromises, and the instructor just wasn’t.

        2. Student*

          Sure you can. The only question is, can you afford to offer more than one yoga class?

          Yoga Class 1 – No Cell Phones. Meets from 11-12.
          Yoga Class 2 – Cell Phones Allowed. Meets from 1-2.

          Facebook is pretty big, and I imagine they can (and probably already do) support multiple classes. One for the people who cannot go an hour without being in touch, one for those who can and prefer not to be interrupted by phones in meditation. If multiple classes doesn’t work out, you could alternate days or weeks or instructors.

          I always prefer to give people options when it’s viable to do so.

    2. Colette*

      Yes! Context matters, and high-tech employees at work are expected to be reachable.

      I used to carry a pager in my tech support days, and I had to answer it in a yoga class. Would I have preferred to not answer (or not have it there)? Absolutely. But my choice was either take it to yoga or stay home, so I took it with me.

      It sounds like the instructor wasn’t aligned with her employer’ policies – but also that she wasn’t aligned with what her clients actually needed.

      1. Colette*

        To be clear, I did leave the class as soon as the pager buzzed, but that’s not as easy as it sounds when you’re flustered and there are people sprawled all over the place.

      2. Liz*

        You left the class, though, right? You didn’t sit in the middle of a bunch of people, distracting them, when you could have just walked to the door for a minute?

  7. AMG*

    I think that not taking pictures would be something the yoga class attendees would want–I certainly would not be comfortable with it.

    But regardless of personal opinions on either instance, I think it’s strange that they didn’t simply talk to her before firing her. It seems a bit extreme. Giving her the opportunity to align with the company values would be a more balanced solution. I haven’t seen anything that indicates that this came up before the glaring-at-the-smartphone-user catalyst.

    1. Suzanne*

      Strange that they did not talk to her before firing her? One would think, but in the workplace cultures that I have experienced in the past few years, no, this is the norm. Businesses seem to have taken on the mentality that for every one of you, there are 30 more who want your job, so they don’t wast time with warnings, documentation, etc. My current workplace fires people all the time without any talk, any warning, nothing. Have they had legal action taken? Yep, but it doesn’t stop them for a hot second.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        According to the news coverage and her blog, they did talk to her before firing her — earlier they’d told her that she needed to stop being strict about rules like this.

  8. Laura*

    So – to be a pain, I’m curious if/how your answer would change if other students in the same yoga class had asked the teacher to regulate cell phone use in the class because it was distracting their practice.

    1. Esra*

      I’m curious about this as well. In any yoga class I’ve ever been in, cell phones being on or people texting/talking was really frowned upon by the rest of the class.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d say she’d need to talk to the company about the fact that she was getting conflicting requests, and discuss how to align that with their “always say yes” edict.

      1. Liz*

        I said this further down too – I don’t understand why the people who needed to type couldn’t step outside for a minute? I’ve been on call and I practice yoga. It isn’t a big deal to leave.

        1. Colette*

          But … this was typing (presumably an e-mail) and not a voice call. Depending on how the class the class was arranged, it may have been far more disruptive to weave through the other participants than it was to sit quietly for a minute and answer the e-mail.

    3. Mike C.*

      I don’t see why it would matter – if someone’s manager expects an employee to be reachable while at work, then I’m not sure how the vote of a bunch of other employees would override this.

      1. Sandrine*

        Well then if you need to be reachable at all times AND your coworkers/the rules decide that you can’t use a cell phone while in yoga class, the logical answer would be, to me, that people who absolutely NEED to be reachable just don’t go to yoga class at all.

        Surely sucks in a way, but one can’t have it both ways I guess.

        On the logical/employment side I’ll say I’m with Allison.
        On the “what if I took yoga classes” side I’m kinda with the yoga teacher on this one.

        1. Colette*

          And this is where the yoga teacher was short-sighted, because if there’s a yoga class at a workplace where the expectation is that you will be reachable during business hours and she bans cell phones (thus making the participants unreachable), no one will be able to attend. That’s not an effective way to keep your job.

      2. KellyK*

        It matters because the direction she was given was “Always say yes” to the people she’s teaching. You can’t say “yes” to both cell phones and a distraction-free environment.

  9. ruby*

    It sounds like the teacher just isn’t able/willing to understand the difference between running her own class (you make the rules) and being hired by a company to teach a class for them (they make the rules).

    Aside from everything else, glaring at someone is a rather childish way of dealing with things. “Van Ness said nothing, but shot the student a look.”. Ugh. Why not be a grown-up and say “Could you take your call outside the room please?”.

    Which is not to say the student wasn’t obnoxious – she was. She was asked to turn off her phone and she didn’t. She could have been a grown-up as well and said “I’m sorry but I have something urgent going on and I need to be reachable. If I get a call, I will take it outside”. No one exactly covered themselves in glory here.

    1. fposte*

      Because that would disrupt the other students more at that point–they weren’t looking at her (shouldn’t have been, anyway, for downward dog) and wouldn’t have had their flow interrupted by her glaring.

  10. Joey*

    If she’s going to be that rigid even after being called on it before she really needs to go into business for herself.

    And I’d argue that in certain circumstances you can plunge ahead with your own agenda but you’d better damn well know what you’re doing. And you’d better be prepared to take the heat if it doesn’t produce a better result than the boss’ direction.

  11. Anonymous*

    I get what AAM is saying. I get what the FB company is all about. I also get what yoga is all about. I would just think though that if FB wanted to allow its employees to have this exercise/stress reduction as part of the work day, it would be understood that it is the part of the day where you are allowed to put the cell phones away and focus on the purpose of the yoga exercise. Or, if cell phones couldn’t be turned on, then I would at least expect the person to quietly excuse themselves from the room, and attend to their business elsewhere.

    I understand it’s above the issue of the cell phone to some degree, but I would think too FB would tweek certain things if this is what it was giving to the employees.

    But maybe I’m missing something…

  12. AMG*

    I can kind of see her point. It would be too distracting to speak in the class–yoga is meditative, and the smaller the room, the more noticeable any interaction is. A very quiet whisper, hand gestures, a smile, and mouthing the words ‘thank you’ would have been a nicer approach.

  13. Anon2*

    I’m on the fence with this one. I wouldn’t expect to see a detailed listing of incidents that led up to her firing, but the two examples we have seem like they could more easily be taken care of with feedback. Especially since the one, preventing a student from taking pictures without everyone else’s permission (I would FLIP if I were taking a yoga class and someone wanted to film/photograph me without my permission), is something that a reasonable person could object to.

    But, I do think it’s reasonable that an employee would be expected to remain available via phone when they’re doing yoga at work, during the work day. Since the staffing/yoga company is specifically providing staff at corporate sites, you would think they’d explicitly state their expectations in this regard – and maybe they did.

    I agree that if she needs to accomodate the way her company expects her to run the class at these companies and good customer service rarely includes scolding your client for behavior you don’t like – even if it is only a look. From a customer service standpoint, this is problematic, though I’m not sure how much coaching they gave her in this regard.

    1. Anon2*

      *I agree that she needs to accomodate the way her company expects her to run the class …. not “if she needs”

    2. Piper*

      Technically, depending on what the pictures where going to be used for (marketing, etc), everyone in the class should have been required to sign a release form giving their consent for using their image. I’d flip if I was in a class and someone just started snapping pictures without my consent.

  14. Anonymous*

    I’m not sure what everyone expected the teacher to do when classroom rules were being ignored.

    So, she told someone to stop taking pictures and she was told to “not be so strict”. What does that mean? Apparently, it means let the students walk all over you.

    Was she supposed to go to her boss and ask for a ruling every time someone crossed the line? That’s ridiculous. Firing the teacher was just management at the contract company taking the easy way out and appeasing Facebook instead of negotiating reasonable expectations on both sides.

    1. Anon2*

      These can be awkward situations. You need to toe some kind of line in order to preserve the value for ALL of the students, but she needs to learn how to do this as gracefully as possible.

      It’s like the express lane at the grocery store, where you are suppose to only have 10 items or less. If someone gets in line with 30 items, it is not the other customer’s responsibility to police the line, it is the cashier’s job. However, they shouldn’t just yell at the person “hey you, get in another line you have too many things in your cart”, they need to direct them to another lane “I’m sorry for your wait, but this line is reserved for customers who have 10 items or less. Mark over there would be happy to help you, again, I apologize for any confusion.” Ideally, a manager is watching during high traffic times and will swoop in to redirect the person, but that’s definitely rare.

      So same thing here – need to enforce some basic rules to preserve the experience for everyone but you don’t have to be a drill sargeant about it. And maybe that is why she was fired. Maybe they’d gone over this with her and she didn’t get it and was being unnecessarily abrasive or “strict”.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “Was she supposed to go to her boss and ask for a ruling every time someone crossed the line? “

      No, but she should have had an overall talk with her company about general expectations around this kind of thing, so that she could make the judgment calls they wanted her to make.

  15. DJ*

    I feel really strongly about this, so I’m going to rant in defensive of the yoga instructor.

    “In its termination notice, the company suggested the Facebook incident was part of a pattern of strict behavior on Van Ness’ part; she had previously asked a Cisco employee not to take photographs of the class while it was in session.”

    That’s what yoga teachers do. They foster an environment of calm, privacy inside the classroom, quiet, and meditation. Of COURSE her pattern is to ask people not to be invasive or disruptive in her classes! Note that she didn’t lose her gig at Cisco until the FB incident, so she clearly didn’t do anything majorly wrong there, she’d just asked people not to take photos. That’s perfectly acceptable normal human yoga teacher behavior. I’m pretty sure no one told her up front to conduct her classes outside her normal way. Any yoga teacher worth their salt would balk if told that students could come and go as they please and use their phones, take photos in class, and generally live in anarchy, etc.

    It’s like bringing in a nutritionist to help with people’s eating habits and them getting fired because you can’t say no to employees who want Lard Cakes served in the cafeteria. If you hire a specialist, let them specialize.

    And this article says she got fired for a request for courtesy and a dirty look. A DIRTY LOOK. It’s not like she called the woman out in class, she didn’t actually say NO to her, she just looked at her. What a joke that she was fired over that. Power hungry, out of touch, reactive BS.

    “The 35-year-old San Carlos resident was fired last month after managers at the fitness contractor she worked for explained that saying “no” to Facebook employees is a no-no.”

    Most grown up people (which I’m guessing not a lot of FB employees are if they are never told no) would understand or excuse themselves if there’s a phone emergency. Keeping phones on silent by your side in the case of on the job classes+emergencies makes sense, but keeping them on and typing in the middle of a yoga class is total BS. If the employee went and whined to a higher up and got this woman fired because she couldn’t follow common yoga courtesy…this person has lost touch with reality…which explains a lot about Facebook in general.

    And I work in a froofy tech company that allows us to do a whole lot of things we want, but if we treated someone hired to come in to help us with our lives like this, we’d be the ones in trouble not them. Because we’re expected to be nice and grown ups.

    1. hmm*

      Actually a lot of your assumptions are completely wrong. Just because a company doesn’t fire you for a first offense doesn’t not mean it wasn’t problematic behavior. She was clearly warned and didn’t listen.

      Look, yoga is not church. It’s not important. As practised by latte drinking western urbanites, it is just an exercise class with good marketing. It doesn’t deserve reverence and clearly isn’t getting it. I’m sorry if that’s offensive to the Eat,Pray, Love crowd! Facebook pays and they get to set the rules. If she didn’t like it, she could have quit. The client is always right. If you don’t like it, someone else will.

      1. DJ*

        I don’t think there was any mention of her being clearly warned in the article. It just says she asked an employee not to take photos, not that she was reprimanded for it. Taking photos and using a phone are two levels of bad studio behavior. Photos are far more invasive that using a phone, so she probably didn’t realize the two would come up together in a firing.

        The studio and teacher I go to regularly is a church. Not an actual church, but a spiritual place to meditate. There are crappy classes out there that are just for exercise, but in general yoga does deserve reverence. And I hate lattes and Eat Pray Love.

        And I live a blessed life of “the client is not always right”, so we’ll have to disagree on that part.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, I don’t know if she was really understand that she was breaching the employer’s wishes (or really believed that the employer was serious about the extent they were going with this stupid “say yes” rule) or not. But the point being made here about the employer getting to set stupid rules is still a valid one. And I await with interest the consequences of the next teacher’s saying Yes to the can-I-practice-nude and can-I-bring-my-kid students.

        2. AMG*

          I agree. there is a difference between ‘assumption’ and ‘opinion’. It is important, it’s not just an exercise class, there is a spiritual and meditative component, it does deserve reverence, and does get revernce in most other places.

          Any clients who act like that in the yoga classes I attend are asked to leave and do get dirty looks. They are motified if their cell phones disturb anyone, and nobody has ever taken a picture. They can go to the Facebook yoga classes.

          I have never read Eat, Pray, Love because it looks boring. And I don’t drink lattes.

      2. DJ*

        And now I see a lot of my assumptions were wrong based on the blog post she wrote about it. So much for believing in the little guy! Blergh.

        “Previously, I had been asked by management to just let the students do whatever they wanted. Come in late, leave early, answer emails, come in during class to get weights, take photos for the newsletter—whatever came up, I was told to just say yes.”

        She did think by saying nothing, and simply looking at her that she wasn’t telling her “no”. But my point about FB employees needing to be grown ups still stands. :(

        1. Anonymous*

          “…But my point about FB employees needing to be grown ups still stands. :(”


          My god! Complaining and getting someone fired over being called out for being a rude idiot?!? Jeez, what a drama queen. Get over yourself!

        2. Liz T*

          Okay then, she had it coming. Shooting dirty looks for things she explicitly knows her students are allowed to do? It was made clear to her that this was part of the office culture–if she didn’t like it, she could’ve lumped it.

        3. Liz*

          Oh! I didn’t go to her blog. They did tell her not to correct students, then? I still don’t like the environment – “always say yes to everything” is no way to set a work goalthat can be measured very well – but that does make more sense in terms of establishing that she wasn’t meeting an expectation of the job and should have known it. Crazy.

          1. KellyK*

            Yep. It’s a crappy environment to try to teach a yoga class in, but they did make it clear that that was what they wanted.

        1. Jamie*

          Now a company that offered lattes instead of yoga…that’s a employee program I can support!

      1. Alisha*

        Liz, I feel you – give me coffee over yoga every time. My brain can’t stop chattering enough to get into the deep relaxation required of yoga. Vigorous exercise with my iPod playing to drown out my thoughts always works best for me. (…And I still call it “my Walkman,” which makes me look like Grandpa in front of younger folk. D’oh!)

  16. Charles*

    As a trainer (no, not yoga) I totally agree with AAM on this. It is about meeting the client’s expectations. And those expectations often include their philosophical beliefs.

    But, I would like to add another key point that the news report seems to just gloss over. This instructor blogged about the incident later!

    Fine, complain to your boss, complain to your friends, complain to your cat. But don’t put it out there for the whole world to see; especially at a tech firm where many are likely to see it. (and she mostly likely knew that didn’t she? That’s why she blogged about it. Was it a “let me really embarrass this student” thing she was trying to do?)

    So, in my opinion (even if this was her first infraction, which it wasn’t) she never should have blogged about it; and should be let go for that reason alone.

    1. Anonymous*

      Ha! That’s hillarious! Complaining about her customers online. Yeah, she had it coming.

    2. Anonymous*

      Was the blogging about it before or after the firing? If it was before, then I completely agree, fire her, but the reason should be that she is publicly speaking badly about her employer/clients as well as the documented warnings. If the blog was after the firing, she is under no more obligation to defend the company other than burning that bridge and potentially missing out on future employers who are worried they may get negative publicity if they need to fire her.

      So to me this is a case of the company not being 100% transparent in the termination notice (who would guess the lawyers would get involved in that arena). Or a seriously childish FB employee. Come on now, have some respect for other people (not even just the instructor) they are there trying to relax and destress which is not easy with a phone going off or keys clicking away. If you need to be on call in that environment put it on silent and quietly leave when it goes off or when you need to send a text or email. And really, complaining enough to get someone fired over a nasty look? Grow up.

    3. KellyK*

      Totally agree (assuming that the blog was personally identifiable and she mentioned the client by name).

  17. Jamie*

    What’s ironic is I’m sure FB saw this as a perk they were offering their employees, as on-site yoga classes aren’t required by the DOL.

    I guess no good deed goes unpunished since now they are contending with negative publicity over something that wouldn’t even be a workplace matter if they weren’t trying to go above and beyond.

    Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t work at a company like this nor do I agree with the mindset behind this kind of work environment (personally I think employee enrichment should go into salaries and let employees decide how to perk themselves) – but I can still feel for the poor soul who suggested this in the first place.

  18. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I just had an interesting conversation about this with my reflexologist (wow, that sounded like I’m Gwenyth Paltrow), who also happens to teach yoga. She said that she’d never allow photos or cell phones in her class, but that any savvy yoga teacher would know that if you’re teaching corporate classes (as opposed to in a yoga studio), you discuss your expectations up front before taking the job — “here’s how I run my classes, here’s what I don’t allow, will that fit in with what you’re doing here,” etc. — because corporate classes often have dramatically different rules and cultural expectations. (She said she wouldn’t have taken the job, by the way, because she won’t bend on those issues — but the point here is that she thought it was normal to know to discuss this stuff during hiring … not to just insist on doing it your way regardless of what the employer wants.)

    1. Jamie*

      First I had to look up how yoga connected to spirituality, because I had always thought it was just less strenuous pilates.

      Then I had to look up reflexology, and upon learning what it was, look up the difference between that and acupressure.

      I’ve learned a lot from this post…mostly that I’m not nearly evolved enough.

    2. Charles*

      Hmmm, AAM, might there be enough for you to do a post on your opinion about extra perks such as yoga classes in the workplace?

      I’m sort of with Jamie on this – put that money into salary, time-off, healthcare, etc and let employees decide how they want to spend that it.

      If the organization already has great compensation then such perks are nice; But, I see too many places offer this stuff instead of great compensation. Then they brag about how much of a “caring” employer they are!

      Seriously, I just finished up a contract assignment at a company in which more than 50% of the workers were contractors and were not allowed to use the gym, etc. But we would receive 2-3 emails a day about these terrific perks. Talk about rubbing salt into the wounds! If they were really that concerned with my health then they would offer healthcare to me.

      What is your take on this issue? Is it worth a blog post?

      1. JT*

        It depends on the number of people in one location. If there are 20 or 50 employees, it’s pretty not good to spend money on, say, yoga, since only a small number of people will benefit.

        But if there are several hundred, or more, and days are long, offering a range of perks that significant numbers of people can take advantage of makes some sense. The company can get deals on pricing, it saves on driving, etc. There should be some effort to have a broad range so that many people can take advantage – a good cafeteria should be one of the first items, then maybe gym/yoga – because those will be broadly popular and also since employee health relates to corporate bottom line.

        Not allowing contractors to use certain facilities is a separate issue I won’t comment on.

      2. KellyK*

        I totally agree. I would rather have good compensation than any number of perks. I also think the necessity for a lot of perks goes away if employees have more control over their own time. If you’re not expected to be on-site for umpteen hours a day, it makes it a lot easier to go do yoga or zumba or lift weights without a need for it to be brought to work.

        I think that there are some perks that make sense if they’re popular and the company can get a discount on them.

        1. KellyK*

          Oh, and I also think that not letting contractors use whatever perks you do offer is crappy.

          1. Jamie*

            I don’t know how it applies to classes like this, as I’ve never worked at a company with those offerings – but it is important legally to distinguish between regular and contracted or temp employees.

            A company can get in trouble blurring the lines between the different classes of workers – and I’ve heard this from three different labor attorneys from three different companies. Everything from the verbiage in documentation to how perks are distributed needs to clearly differentiate the regular employees from others.

            1. KellyK*

              Yeah, that makes sense. It probably depends on whether the perk is defined as a “benefit.” If the yoga is part of an employee health and wellness plan, which includes insurance, an EAP, etc., then I definitely see not including contractors.

              Though I do think that it’s only common courtesy, if you have to exclude someone from an activity, to avoid throwing it in their face by mass emails. (Using separate distribution lists seems like it would actually *add* to that distinction between contractors and employees.)

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, I agree that perks don’t make up for a good salary. Although my understanding is that Facebook salaries are good, so this is icing on the cake.

        Also, Jamie is right that when companies don’t let contractors use their perks, it’s often (always?) for legal reasons that require them to have a bright line between employees and contractors.

      4. Mike C.*

        One thing you might not realize is that for many companies, perks like these (on site massage/physical training for instance) can save a company a huge amount of money in terms of lost work days and injuries. It certainly has for my company.

        1. Charles*

          Mike, is it a case of these perks directly save money or are these perks part of an overall attitude that causes people to less likely call in sick?

        1. KellyK*

          I’m totally with you on believing in foot massages!

          The concept behind reflexology sounds a little “woo” to me, but my general attitude toward alternative medicine is that it doesn’t matter why it works as long as it works. I get acupuncture regularly for sciatica, and I don’t have to believe in the stuff about chi for it to make me feel better, and if it’s a placebo effect, I’m okay with that.

  19. Danni*

    She definitely should have made sure her values aligned before she took the job, but doesn’t this reflect poorly on whoever did the hiring or whoever came up with this yoga at facebook idea?

    The whole thing makes no sense. Why offer yoga if you are going to ruin it by letting employees text during that? Why not offer personal training sessions, so that people who want to exercise can do so in peace? And those who want to talk on the phone won’t be disturbing 20 other people? It’s like saying “we’d like you to coach a running group for Facebook employees, but if someone shows up riding their bike, you must let them”. Well, that’s going to irritate everyone else who came to run. The instructor shouldn’t have accepted the position, but whoever came up with this idea is also at fault.

    1. Anonymous*

      I can see excusing the company somewhat – if you don’t do yoga, you have no idea that it requires meditation and a certain mental state to master it completely. However, now that they understand that their policies are in conflict with the way yoga is generally taught, they need to make their digital device policy clear at the interview, and ensure that the new teacher they select is okay with students whose energies are diverted elsewhere.

      1. Jen*

        I’ve only seen yoga on TV and I know it requires meditation! They’d have to be living under a rock to not realize that.

      2. Alisha*

        True, Jen, but it’s Facebook – it’s Mark Zuckerberg. The guy makes the news regularly for being totally self-absorbed. Dunno if you’ve heard about the new Facebook tell-all that just came out, but apparently, he used to make all male employees dress like him and make all female employees wear shirts bearing a giant photo of his face every year on his birthday.

        My reaction was: “Wow. WOOOOOW.”

  20. Spiny*

    This feels more like a firing at the insistence of the poor person who received the dirty look to me

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t know. If they have this policy, dumb as it is, they obviously believe in it. And if someone violated my policy multiple times and was talked to multiple times (as seems to be the case from some of the news coverage), I’d consider firing them too.

  21. nyxalinth*

    The economy sucks, job hunting still blows goats, but let’s be realistic: if you aren’t a match for the job and vice versa, you’ll either be fired or quit. It also sucks that people like me can’t afford to be picky for many reasons.

    Even so, once she was in the environment, and knew the rules, she should have played by the rules.

    One other thing we don’t know is how vital it might have been for that employee to keep an eye on her facebook and goings-on. It might have actually been part of her job, regardless of what she was currently doing.

    1. Mike C.*

      This is what I keep thinking. I have third and fourth level managers calling me at random times looking for information and I need to be able to provide it at a moment’s notice. In such an environment, telling me to turn off my phone would just be telling me not to use the company provided service.

      1. Sandrine*

        I know I responded to that notion in another comment, Mike C., but the “telling me not to use the company provided service” is the key point here.

        If the point of yoga is to meditate and if the point is for it to be undisturbed, if you ARE to be disturbed by your phone every 5 seconds, then there is no point for you to take the yoga class since you won’t actually be using it. You might as well be sitting at a desk in an empty office with your phone on the desk and it would end up being the same thing… sucks a lot, but can’t have it both ways I guess :) .

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But being reachable doesn’t mean that they WILL need to reach you. You might be able to take the whole class undisturbed, just still having your phone on in case that changes (and it might not change). I assume the agreement with employees is “go ahead and take the class during work hours, with the caveat that you might occasionally get interrupted and you need to make sure that can happen.”

        2. NicoleW*

          I’ve practiced yoga, including working towards being an instructor for children’s classes. I’ve always had the approach for both kids and corporate classes that yoga is meant to be enjoyable and relaxing stretching, more than meditation. When you are teaching 4 year olds, there will always be giggles, potty breaks, etc. For corporate workers, it’s great to get them moving, strengthening and stretching the muscles that are crunched from sitting at a desk all day, but it’s less of a spiritual experience.

          Perhaps the compromise would be anyone who is able to truly unplug can stay for the last 5 minutes of quiet meditation with no disruptions. Even the three-year olds can usually do one or two minutes of lying down quietly at the end of class. :)

          (I realize I just compared corporate workers to preschoolers.)

  22. Anonymous*

    She’s better off not working for this company, as it and she are not in philosophical alignment. Sometimes, this happens, and it’s okay. I left a job early in my career, voluntarily, but left just the same, because they claimed their services were 100% US-based. In reality, they outsourced a quarter of their project work to a team in India, and I don’t lie to clients.

    The employer needs to take the liberties it offers its employees into account, and going forward, hire a teacher who doesn’t care if his/her students are completely focused on the class, deep breathing, attaining a meditative state, etc. It’s not the way most people prefer to do yoga, but it is the company’s choice, so they need to ask prospective new teachers whether they’re okay teaching people who will be checking their phones or PDAs throughout class.

    If the Cisco employees signed a release permitting their photos to be used in corporate marketing collateral, then photographing them is acceptable. If no such release was furnished, then Cisco is in the wrong. Perhaps the information is there, but I didn’t see it in the article, so it’s not a call I’d want to make. A yoga studio in my area wound up firing its design agency for photographing students without going through the proper release-form channels.

  23. Mary Christine*

    I totally get what AAM is saying here – but I’m thinking that sometimes there is leeway…and this is an extreme example. Remember that lifeguard that got fired recently for going to help someone in distress outside of his ‘zone’? As a consequence of violating his contract with his employer, he got fired.

    But then he got rehired – maybe due to media pressure? Mind you, now I hear that Legoland has offered him a job, and also offered to employ the other lifeguards that resigned as a protest!

  24. Liz*

    I totally agree with the overarching point. I’m not sure about this particular situation though. I love yoga – it really isn’t a gym class but rather a mediation requiring group members to respect each other. I agree the company CAN set any culture it wants, too, and the employee should take responsibility to make sure that is a culture he or she will be able to fit.

    I guess I just can’t cheer the idea of an employer making a contract employee so ridiculously vulnerable to complaints. Sure it happens, but why support the idea, in an employment market where employees really don’t have the ability to vote with their feet? It supports a market inefficiency that further frustrates both common sense and a strong economy overall.

    If it had been me, I would have agreed to follow the policy. But I don’t feel good about cheering a world where employers act crazy. I’m less concerned about fairness for the individual employee, just weirded out by the implications for the overall economy. That just seems like it would lead to problems. We don’t have the kind of perfect world that can correct for crazy irresponsible companies. So I guess I think we shouldn’t pretend it is a good thing that will sort itself out.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh, I’m definitely not cheering the policy. I think it’s probably a dumb policy. But I do think that it’s reasonable that employers be able to decide how they want their company to operate, hold employees to that standard, and fire them if they aren’t meeting that standard, particularly after being talked to about it previously. I mean, imagine if you ran a company and you had an employee who fundamentally disagreed with your approach and just refused to do it the way you had laid out as best for your business? You’d need to replace her with someone who was willing to do the work the way you wanted it done.

      I’m not *cheering* that, per se, but I do think that’s how things have to work, and that it’s in everyone’s interests (employer and employee) to be aligned about expectations.

      1. Charles*

        All very true.

        There have been many times when setting up a training class I would have preferred to have done things my way but end up doing it the way the manager wants.

        She, or rather, her company, is paying me. That’s the bottom line. They are paying for my skills and experience; if they don’t want to use them the best way, that is their choice. (even if it is a stupid and counter-productive choice)

        The only thing that I will not compromise on is *I do NOT lie.* So, don’t ask me to.

  25. Liz*

    I agree that once set the expectations should be met, and if not the employee fired. It just still seems weird to me since the expectation wasn’t actually related to her job. The expectation here was “You will allow employees to be rude to you an others and you will not look like this bothers you.” She only glared, right?

    It’s Facebook, not the playboy bunny ranch. She didn’t turn in her TPS reports in an unapproved format. She failed to match a mood. That can still be a cultural expectation. It is just more of a gray area for me in terms of whether or not this is really a failure to meet an employment expectation. Clearly Facebook could havhath ought that keeping the employees happy was a goal, but what about keeping the other class members happy? This is closer to “one person complains and you’re gone” which isn’t the same thing as “we wanted you to try to keep the employees happy but you chose to make an employee unhappy.”Does that make sense?

    I agree with your framework, I just am not quite sure these facts fit that framework. This seems like a case could just have easily been made that she was stuck meeting completely contradictory employment goals, and fired when the goals conflicted.

  26. Liz*

    Anyway, I agree with the overall point. I’m just not sure about these facts. And you’re right, you weren’t really cheering the firing :)

    1. Liz*

      I just saw above that according to her blog, which I didnt click over to, she was told never to correct students in any way. So she should have known they would fire her for glaring. I really don’t like the policy or the person who complained, but a warning is a warning and that’s that. The facts do fit :)

  27. Eggs and bacon*

    I think also as an instructor, you have to meet your student where they are to a point. It’s harder to do in a class setting rather than one-on-one but especially in a situation where yes, people are voluntarily coming to a class but it’s a work place – it may be their first crack at yoga and they just want to see what it’s about. I would also expect such a class to have rank beginners to experienced yoginis all mixed in as well so I think a teacher has to be more flexible in their teaching.

    I wonder for example if maybe talking to the person after class could have been an educational opportunity – maybe the person themselves felt bad about taking the call – maybe it was an urgent non work phone call, we don’t even know that – or maybe the teacher could have pointed out how the person themselves might have noticed they felt less “in flow” or something like that. This might have built understanding and rapport and not felt so antagonistic. Ultimately as a teacher you’d want to bring people in, not push them out.

  28. Cruella DaBoss*

    Okay….the the teacher was fired for “glaring” at the offending participant? Not going all “postal” on her for disrupting the serenity of the class space?

    The limited yoga classes that I have taken/been exposed to are about relaxation. Usually there is some sign that reads “No Cell Phones Please,” either on the door outside or somewhere up front. This is a pretty common practice and usually implied, given the result is relaxation.

    Sounds like two people who are completely unfamiliar with the premise of yoga.

    1. Jamie*

      I think the difference is that it’s a class at work on company time.

      Kind of like if I order in at home I will choose the restaurant and get exactly what I want…but if the company is having lunch brought in I will select something reasonable from the menu of their choosing or politely opt out. I don’t complain that I don’t like the menu or require that the meal is the same as if I were to arrange and pay for it myself.

      The company can offer the class, but if it doesn’t meet the same standards as an external class the participants can opt out and go to a class of their own choosing, on their own time, with their own money.

      Just my opinion – but for those who like these kind of perks I would think the fastest way to get them canceled would be to complain.

  29. Jamie*

    From the article: “”Hello – this is only Facebook,” said Van Ness, whose firing cost her a teaching gig at Cisco too. “We’re not talking about the U.S. government here. We’re not talking about Russia is about to bomb us. We’re talking about Facebook. Something can’t wait half an hour?””

    I think this is an important point. She’s a contractor for an outside company – a vendor for Facebook for these classes – she has no business sitting in judgment of how important (or not) someone’s job is. That’s really out of line.

    A lot of us have jobs which are time sensitive and important to us, even if we’re not protecting the US from being attacked.

    One could take the point of view that teaching a yoga class is also not on par with homeland security.

    1. Charles*

      Yes, I got the feeling that she is a bit of a “fanantic” about yoga:

      “Your e-mail is more important than understanding your body? It’s more important than taking time for you?”

      Very judgemental indeed. NOT a good thing for any teacher.

    1. Liz*

      I thought the point was more “know what you’re getting into.” I think the teacher should have known she would get fired, but let’s not pretend it would be a good thing if the company can just do anything it wants in a like-it-or-leave environment.

      It’s not a perfect world and almost no one can realistically leave, right?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t think that’s what Corey is saying. He’s saying that if you take the job, you either need to comply with the culture/expectations (assuming they’re not illegal), or work to change it, or leave/not take the job in the first place. If the latter isn’t the option, then you have to do one of the first two.

        1. Liz*

          I think there is just something really strange about this situation. I tend to follow the rules, personally, so that isn’t it. And on the facts of the case, like I said above, you’re right. She was warned to “always say yes” to her students. So she should have known she’d be fired.

          It’s just somehow really weird to think of a company being able to force someone to smile as a job requirement, and to see that presented as ‘Well it’s not illegal so do it or leave.”

          I think something about the current job market, where realistically no one can really leave, makes this feel off to me. I’m not arguing. I just can’t quite accept the implications of “Smile Pretty… or Leave” when it’s presented as a company policy – and I’m someone who smiles a lot! I just don’t think of it as a job requirement.

          1. Liz*

            Maybe it’s the fact that Facebook instituted a policy where employees in one class, contractors, are required to smile while being treated rudely (and against common sense and accepted practices) by employees in another class?

            Smiling through that kind of situation doesn’t seem quite related to the real duties of any work responsibility. It’s different from offering positive customer service. It’s just somehow…. strange… It feels like the kind of order you’d hear in a brothel, not a corporate work environment. (feel free to joke around with that one… I just can’t get past the similarities somehow).

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Where did you see the smile thing? As far as I know, she wasn’t required to smile, just to accommodate behavior that wouldn’t normally be okay in a yoga studio (as opposed to a corporate yoga class). (And to not glare at people engaging in that behavior.)

  30. Dan*

    Was the person getting fired an employee or a contractor of the agency providing yoga services for FB?

    If the later, how much control does the company have over how the teacher runs the class?

    1. Jamie*

      Contractor. FB hired an agency and she was the teacher they supplied.

      Company has total control – because they are paying for it. If they were asking for things which the vendor couldn’t provide (if her agency said they only do cell free classes, for example) then they shouldn’t have accepted the client. They were accepted and the conditions agreed upon – then the agent of the vendor disregarded those conditions and was fired by her employer.

      You will lose your job in the service industry if you insult your clients – a lesson I hope the teacher took away from this.

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