It was a regular workday at Cure.fit for Rohit* on April 30, packed with regular meetings as his team worked to train other fitness trainers and keep them busy during the lockdown. A day later, on Labour Day, Rohit received a call that he had to hand in his resignation, and not by choice.
Like Rohit, scores of employees including trainers, centre managers of Cult.fit (Cure.fit’s fitness centres brand) as well as many cafe managers of Eat.fit (its healthy food quick service restaurants), were asked to resign as the business wasn’t doing well in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cure.fit had also said that its founders have taken a 100% pay cut, the management team 50% and the rest of the staff depending on seniority have a reduction of 20 to 30%.
This is the second round of layoffs, after some were laid off in the beginning of April.
Without any prior notice, employees were given a day’s time to send in their resignation letters and choose between two options — one, where May 1 would be the last working day and they would get 45 days pay till June 15, or to work till June 15 and receive 45-day pay on June 30. In both cases, employees were told that their insurance would extend up until July 31.
Cure.fit has attempted to be a one-stop solution for all things pertaining to fitness — working out, food, recipes, apparel, healthcare and more. A fitness behemoth, if you will. The company has said that it was piloting digital fitness platform Cult.live, which then took off in a big way thanks to the lockdown. Cure.fit actively brought celebrities on board for classes, and has been marketing it — keeping the product free for all for now.
However, this pivot to digital-first has led to rounds of job losses at the company. While the employees were given the options, it was intimated to them over call and not in writing. All employees that TNM spoke to confirmed that all their logins and emails were disabled within hours, and all communication to the company went unanswered.
“We were even getting appreciation for our work during the lockdown. During meetings, they would always talk about how well online classes were doing, giving us a sense of security. We never saw this coming,” Rohit says.
One trainer told TNM that while some people who refused to resign were told that they would be fired in June with a bad remark.
Some employees allege that they weren’t even given this option, suggesting that there is no consistency in what has been communicated to laid off employees.
One of the people employed in the Cult.fit training academy, who is currently pregnant, has been left in the lurch as she and her husband planned on having a child because they believed it would be a two-income household, which would allow them to pay off their loans, as well as take care of expenses that come with having a child. Defaulting to a single income household has now put the family under a lot of stress.
“They cannot fire an employee who is expecting. I responded to them from my personal email that I am taking my resignation back. I wrote to them that I want my job back with full respect and honour. I at least want six months’ salary for the damage that they have caused. They have made me think about whether I should have my child or not,” she says.
This move comes as Cult has begun shuttering newer operations. The company first closed down its operations in Dubai and followed up with Chandigarh. Many other smaller cities are expected to follow suit as the company takes a digital turn. The company told TNM that it has closed operations in small towns in India and the UAE.
According to some current and former employees, about 45% of employees across business operations have been laid off. However, TNM has not been able to verify this figure. Nearly 2 lakh people were working out across Cult.fit’s 270 centres in 18 cities and the company had 2,200 trainers on its payroll, reported ET.
“In the beginning of the lockdown, we regularly got mails from the company assuring us that everything will be fine. They left no stone unturned to assure us that they will be there to help us out,” a yoga trainer in Bengaluru said, adding that her termination, hence, came as a rude shock.
While some trainers are sole bread earners of families, some had future plans laid out in the hope of having a secure job at Cure.fit, especially because they weren’t given any indication of the business not doing well.
“By the time I could discuss with my family what I should do, I lost access to my email and was removed from all work WhatsApp groups. My father, who recently retired had heart attacks in December and January. Currently I’m the sole bread earner and with his health being fragile, it’s a crucial period for me and losing my source of income is shocking,” another dance fitness trainer told TNM.
Some of the former employees have alleged that they were coerced into resigning and were warned of loss of pay if they didn't.
“When I got a call, I pleaded with them not to terminate me, asking for some more time with the organisation. But they forced me to resign the same day and said that I won’t be getting my settlement amount if I didn't, so I had to,” one Bengaluru-based employee, who was fired in April told TNM.
Bhavana* who moved from Kolkata to Bengaluru for her job as a fitness trainer now has 45 days to find a new job. “I need to find a new job to continue living here and maintain expenses such as rent. I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she says.
The yoga trainer said that she asked the company to cut pay till things get better but keep their job safe, giving them some sense of security in the current situation, but was terminated.
Cure.fit has raised $404.6 million in nine founding rounds so far, with the latest in a round led by Temasek in March, and according to reports, is yet to break even.
There was also outrage on social media that Cure.fit, which was bringing several celebrities on board, had money for them, but not to retain its own employees.
“They have all the money to spend on one-time gigs with celebrities, but no money for employees, who are apparently the pillar of the organisation. They claim to have recently donated Rs 4 crore to PM Cares fund, I now know where the money came from,” an angry former employee wrote on social media.
#curefit can run ads across channels, pay for website revamps, launch new features and probably benefit a decent amount from the lockdown with live sessions but can’t pay its trainers? The same trainers who are the MVPs of their entire program on any other usual day?— Nayanika (@nayanikaaaaa) May 3, 2020
They also lay off their employees together that too on a labour day.— Rohan Jajodia (@RohanJajodia) May 2, 2020
Funny part is they are not terminating employees but asking them to resign. #curefit #LaborDay @BuzzFeedIndia @republic @ndtvindia @AmitShah @narendramodi @iHrithik @iTIGERSHROFF https://t.co/B2eYqyg744
CULT forced us to resign from our job or they will terminate us, CULT fired the employees. You can donate crores to PM fund and pay lakhs to celebrities for online sessions.@iTIGERSHROFF @iHrithik @ZeeNews @TimesNow @businessinsider @narendramodi https://t.co/3jqC5S8DxF— Khushbu (@Khushbu36857869) May 3, 2020
@BeCureFit during this pandamic cult fitness is forcing us to resign from our jobs, or they will terminate us, cult was being the biggest organisation but smallest in humanity. @narendramodi @AmitShah @aajtak @iTIGERSHROFF @cnnbrk @BBCNews @ABC @NBCNews @SkyNews @AFP @iHrithik pic.twitter.com/vZUu8YVQEQ— Anmol Mahawar (@MahawarAnmol) May 3, 2020
Cure.fit is also reportedly downsizing operations in terms of business units and geographical presence.
As per sources, nearly all swimming trainers have been laid off. All cafe managers and delivery executives of Cure.fit’s food segment Eat.fit in Bengaluru too, were reportedly laid off. Delivery executives have allegedly been told that they can deliver online orders and will be paid on a per-delivery basis.
“About 60-70 employees of eat fit have been fired in Bengaluru. Some of these employees have moved from various places here to work and earned barely Rs 14,000. I don’t know how we will survive now. We haven’t been able to reach out to the company. They blocked all official access and aren’t even picking up calls,” an employee of Eat.fit told TNM.
In some cases, employees were told they would be hired back once things get back to normal.
In a statement, Cure.fit said that its business is going through significant changes in the light of the pandemic.
“The lockdown has affected all our business offerings and we do not see the situation improving for quite some time, considering the pandemic spread has affected all the markets we operate in. While we are doing everything we can to solve for our customers, we also need to adjust to the new realities and manage costs to ensure the long term viability of the business,” it said.
The company confirmed that they downsized their employee base across markets where they shut operations, and have initiated pay cuts. The company did not divulge any numbers.
“The founders have taken a 100% pay cut, the management team 50% and the rest of the staff depending on seniority have a reduction of 20 to 30%,” the statement added.
Cure.fit further said that 90% of the Cult.fit trainers have been retained, but have been moved to a fixed plus variable model to tide over the crisis.
“All employees part of the downsizing have been provided with a significant severance package to help them with the current situation, including extended health insurance for them and their families. Further, we will provide our full assistance in out-placing them in the coming days. We have also created an emergency fund of Rs 2 crore to support affected employees in the coming months,” Cure.fit said in a statement.
At a time when the Indian and global economy is going through one of the worst phases in history, scores of trainers have now been left without jobs and are unsure when any opportunities will open up in the fitness industry.