A 2020 study found that 75% of massage therapists had experienced sexual harassment or assault from a client at least once.
Inappropriate behavior from clients towards service providers is an unfortunate reality in the spa and wellness industry. Spa employees are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment because they work in close quarters, alone, touching people who are in various states of undress. This subject is topical to the staffing crisis in spa and hospitality, as creating safe spaces is key to attracting talent to our industry – and there are issues here.
In 2020, The Association of New Brunswick Massage Therapists (ANBMT) conducted an online survey of New Brunswick massage therapists and found that 75% had experienced sexual harassment or assault from a client at least once, while 27% had experienced it more than three times. Only one reported it to police.
Another survey from Massage Tables Now, conducted in 2018 found that 64% of female and 56% of male massage therapists had experienced “unwanted advances or inappropriate sexual behavior” from a client.
Businesses must do what they can to avoid these problems and handle them when they happen. Prevention is everyone’s responsibility, and managers must take the lead.
Dealing with inappropriate behavior from a spa customer can be challenging, but it’s important to maintain a professional, safe, and comfortable environment for all clients and staff. Here are some tips on how to handle such situations:
How to handle sexual harassment in your spa
Have protocols in place and train your team. Outline your policy and make the protocol part of your onboarding. Provide employees with proper training on how to identify and address inappropriate behavior. What do they say? Who are they to go to, and what will that person do? Have a plan and lay it out so that you’re all on the same page and they feel empowered. Teach them how to handle difficult situations professionally and calmly, and empower them to take appropriate action when necessary.
Let them know they can come to you. Staff should feel 100% comfortable coming to you with any issues and should know that you have their backs. Not only will you inspire confidence, but you’ll be keeping yourself in the loop. You should know what’s going on at your business, so you don’t wind up getting blindsided by complaints, attrition, or even lawsuits. Keeping communication lines open helps promote security for both you and your team.
Have the courage to stand up. A main reason sexual harassment is so rampant is because people are afraid to speak up, call out offenders, and defend themselves and others. In a business setting, managers may be afraid of confrontation, making a wrong decision, or losing business. This fear around standing up to sexual harassment and assault is the reason offenders feel empowered to keep doing what they do. In a clear case where a team member has been harassed or assaulted, take action.
Speaking about harassment in the service and hospitality sectors, workplace harassment prevention consultant, Fran Sepler, told the New York Times: “Every worker in the service and hospitality industry must be told by management that their health and safety is more important than a sale or a customer. Every worker in service and hospitality must know that they are empowered to say: ‘I’m sorry, but it’s unacceptable to treat me this way. I am happy to have my manager come and talk to you about that if you like.’ You never have to smile at someone who is scaring or demeaning you.”
What to do when you are certain a line has been crossed
In a situation where a service provider has been harassed, that person should alert the spa manager and the manager should then go and tell the customer that the treatment is over and ask them to leave. The manager should not leave the customer alone with the service provider. The customer should be informed that they will not be allowed to return to the spa and should be asked to pay for the treatment in full. If the guest denies any wrongdoing, have them fill out a templated form that you should have ready in your spa at all times. The form is for them to make an initial statement in case further investigation is required.
The therapist should be paid for the treatment in full. If the therapist was assaulted, charges should be laid. If you don’t alert the police, the individual will feel empowered to go and assault someone else.
Keep records in your software of what has happened. Your software features should allow you to add notes to a customer file and even ban a customer from the spa with details about the reason for the ban. In this case, if a ban is merited, you would note that they are banned for reasons of sexual misconduct.
What do when you are not certain that a line has been crossed
Sometimes, there will be a situation in which it is unclear whether a line has been crossed. This could be a questionable comment, a suggestive but not overt gesture, or subtle behavior that caused a feeling of uneasiness. These things might not merit intervention or dismissal of the guest, but they can be noted in that person’s file, so therapists can be on guard. Your software should also allow you to ban that customer from booking a particular service provider. The replacement therapist should be informed of the situation, so it can be properly monitored.
We are all accountable for creating safe spaces.
Book4Time’s note taking function can help you note negative customer behavior in your spa and keep everyone safe. Get in touch to ask how.
Spa Executive is published by Book4Time, the leader in guest management, revenue and mobile solutions for the most exclusive spas, hotels, and resorts around the globe. Learn more at book4time.com.
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