Keeping It Clean in the Spa: Preventing and Addressing Claims of Harassment and Retaliation
by Abbe Goncharsky

Peace. Tranquility. Healing.

Guests and therapists come to the spa for many reasons, but almost never with the idea that they may encounter harassment. yet spa experiences are often one-on-one, behind closed doors, and guests are not fully dressed during all treatments. This allows for a relaxing, restorative experience—or allows an individual (guest or employee) an opportunity to behave in a manner outside the expectations of the spa ownership and leadership

As a further complication, many spas do not have a designated human resource professional on staff. The business instead relies on the owner and/or office manager to oversee complaints of harassment and other employee relations issues, along with other day-to-day tasks. This has the potential to overwhelm the responsible party and lead to mistakes and omissions that could have been prevented or minimized if identified earlier.

In today’s day and age, and with the significant number of allegations of harassment across the country and potential for reputational and other harm, spas are well-advised to employ different strategies to ensure that all employees and visitors experience a harassment-free experience AND know what to do to express any concerns.

Have a Formal Policy

Have a formal, written policy available to employees—and possibly the public. Whether a member of the public or an employee on the spa’s staff, you want people to know what is expected. A written policy will also help to convey to your employees and the public that you are taking a stand to prevent harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

Some items to include in a policy are:

  • A description of the conduct (both sexual and non-sexual harassment) that your spa prohibits, including examples. A person should understand what is allowed and what is prohibited.
  • A description of the complaint procedures, including multiple avenues of reporting. If the concern involves a high-level member of the leadership team, you don’t want to discourage the report simply because the policy says that the complaint should be made to that person (or that person’s direct report).
  • A commitment to conduct a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation.
  • Protection against retaliation for employees who make complaints or who participate in good-faith in an investigation of a complaint.
  • A commitment to respond appropriately based on the results of the investigation, including by using prompt and proportionate corrective action.
  • Disseminate the policy as widely and thoroughly as you can, both in writing and by discussing the policy (and its practical impact) at team meetings. In other words, remember: A policy is only worth the paper that it’s written on if you don’t use it, teach from it and follow it.

Zero Tolerance

Make it clear to your employees and the public that your spa does not tolerate any form of discrimination, including harassment or retaliation. Your spa prohibits discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Say it many times—in the employee handbook, guest paperwork, advertising materials, postings in the employee break room. Conduct regular trainings, formal and informal, for all members of the team (including both owners and leadership). Talk about the importance of preventing discrimination, harassment and retaliation during staff meetings and when you’re welcoming guests to the spa. Make sure that employees and guests alike know that they can always express a concern and create an atmosphere that encourages reporting of any concerns, even if they don’t rise to the necessary level to constitute a violation of law.

Then, show through your actions and those of your team members that you meant what you said. If a staff member or guest performs below your expectations, investigate the matter and determine the appropriate response. For some situations, a “first warning” is all that it takes to resolve the situation. For others, though, you may need to consider termination of an employee or guest, and perhaps even whether you will consider actions to ban the person from your premises. As with all these decisions, bringing in legal counsel to provide advice from the very beginning may be a wise investment with significant positive impact.

Spread the Word

Educate your staff about what to do if they see, hear about or experience harassment, discrimination or retaliation. Unfortunately, even the best policies and training do not and cannot prevent all concerns. Employees and customers often complain of having experienced harassment. Whether it’s a reception member not making expected eye contact with a guest (either too much or too little), guests feeling uncomfortable with a draping technique, or an employee claiming “hostile work environment,” each of these complaints should be taken seriously.

Presenting the information in different formats also can have a more lasting effect. As humans, we interpret behaviors and actions differently; what seems like completely appropriate interactions to one person may be offensive and harassing to another. These unique attributes have many benefits and your staff needs to know how to handle them, particularly when they result in a complaint of harassment or otherwise. This isn’t just a question of the law, which sets certain standards—your expectations may exceed what you are legally obligated to prevent.

Document, Document, Document

If you have a beautiful, comprehensive policy that states your commitment to investigate concerns, then make sure that you not only investigate the concerns, but also that you document that you received the concern, what the concern was, who was involved and how it was investigated. As you take efforts to ensure that you’re encouraging those who are reluctant to report to do so, document those efforts.

Keep your documentation organized and accessible to those who have a need to know, but out of the general access. If you store your documentation electronically, make sure to perform regular backups (and that your backed-up information will be able to be retrieved as you continue to upgrade your computers and software).

All in all, concerns of discrimination, harassment and retaliation can be stressful for a spa owner, but they are one of the many business risks that can be minimized with proper attention and consideration. Anticipating potential concerns and taking steps to prevent them will help you to provide a better spa experience for your guests and employees.

ABBE M. GONCHARSKY is licensed to practice law in Arizona and California. This article is provided for informational purposes only and does not create an attorney-client relationship or constitute legal advice. Abbe encourages you to consult with experienced employment counsel regarding your policies and processes and to evaluate your spa’s compliance with all applicable laws.