Do checkboxes form part of a valid contract? Do you still need a hard copy of a contract if it’s filled out online? Are internet checkboxes a good choice?
The digital age has changed some aspects of each industry, and the fitness industry hasn’t been immune.
As your industry adapts, you may find yourself using more online services for contract delivery and even signing contracts. You may have some legal questions about the validity of those electronic signatures and checkboxes on contracts.
First, let’s talk about electronic signatures.
Federal Law states that electronic signatures are legally binding. There are two important pieces of legislation: Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN, 2000) and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA, 1999). Both ESIGN and UETA make it clear that electronic records and signatures carry the same weight and legal effect as paper documents with handwritten signatures.
Here’s what you need to remember — a document or signature cannot be denied legal effect or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form.
Do you need a hard copy to accompany an electronic one?
The electronic and physical paper copies of the contract are considered the same in the eyes of the law as established by ESIGN and UETA. Which means that you don’t need all that extra paper around, right?
Maybe. Record keeping is essential as a business owner, especially when it comes to contracts and finances. Electronic copies of contracts are sometimes even more helpful when it comes to proving signature than paper ones. Information like IP addresses and encrypted signatures may help with validity if there is a question.
Contracts, even electronic ones, should be accompanied by some sort of communication records, even emails. This should be true about your payments, too. More information surrounding the transactions will be helpful if they are ever called into question.
One thing that may reassure you is that it’s pretty rare for someone to claim they didn’t sign a contract. The claims are usually about a breach of contract. Well, you can’t claim breach of contract without a contract, so….
That brings us to the next question: is an internet checkbox the same as a signature?
Not quite, but checkboxes do serve a purpose. A checkbox would be a good option for a question relating to a membership option or a choice, but it’s not the best option for acknowledging something.
Initials are a better option for specific clauses or questions. Requiring initials in a box before a contract can be submitted is good business practice. And if a client doesn’t want to initial that clause or check that box? Then it’s probably time to step back from the contract and negotiate something else. Agreeing on a contract that represents the whole agreement is a best practice.
One of the things you may have in your contract is a photo release, something that a new client may not be comfortable with. They may not want to sign the contract with the release part initialized or checked.
You can handle this a few ways, one of those is to add a box for “yes, with additional comments” that can be cosigned by you after the notes are filled in. You, and your lawyer, can negotiate clause changes by email, or you can tell your client why it is you ask for a photo release and see if that changes their mind. But don’t force them, if they aren’t comfortable with it, rewrite the agreement.
You may continue to see “new and improved” ways to handle online agreements with potential clients, but make sure you run them by your attorney before deciding how you want to proceed.