Providing a Safe Space for Spa Guests and Employees in the Time of COVID-19
by Abbe Goncharsky
Businesses have been through a tremendous roller-coaster in the last several months and the spa industry has been particularly hard-hit. From voluntary and involuntary closures to steps to reopen with precautionary measures in place, spas have been challenged with a myriad of considerations in a very short timeline. As we approach summer season and businesses balance how to keep their employees safe with keeping their doors open, spas are wise to consider how to return to “business as usual” while also taking steps to minimize potential liability related to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Although nothing is lawsuit-proof, these are some of the factors that spas should be considering in this unprecedented time.
1. Prepare the Spa for the Return of Employees and Guests
Spa owners and managers should consider how to best keep the spa as sanitary as possible, particularly because treatments (and even checking in guests) are not actions that lend themselves to social distancing. Stock up on cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer and make a plan for how and how often you will clean the common areas, including restrooms and frequently-touched places like the check-in area, door handles, and even pens (if you’ll be using them). Think about whether and when you will require your employees to wear masks and, if so, if you will provide them. Likewise, will you encourage or require your guests to wear masks? If you do require them, who is responsible for ensuring that the rule is followed (and taking action if it is not)?
2. Establish Policies for Employees and Guests Regarding COVID-19
Spas should review their existing employee policies and practices and determine what, if anything, needs to be adjusted during this pandemic. Consider whether you want to establish policies for your employees and guests who may have the symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who tested positive or is experiencing symptoms. Multiple experts are encouraging companies to adopt policies that when an employee experiences any of the COVID-19 symptoms, they should stay home. The same should also be true for spa guests. Encourage guests and employees to self-report if they are feeling ill and create a safe space for cancellation of appointments and notice of need for a sick day.
3. Continue to Practice Excellent Sanitation
Provide consistent and complete communications to employees and guests regarding sanitation efforts. Handwashing is one of the most straightforward ways to prevent the spread of the virus, so spas would be wise to encourage employees and guests to regularly (and properly) wash their hands.
You will also want to think about addressing sanitation efforts within the spa and what can be done outside the spa to help. Inside the spa, you can utilize cleaning techniques and schedules, require or encourage mask and glove wearing, and make hand sanitizer available. Consider exchanging upholstered chairs in the lobby and other spaces for chairs that are easier to clean—and, while you’re at it, look at the spacing between the chairs.
You can also encourage actions outside the spa, including having employees and guests leave bulky purses and bags at home or in the car and only bring the necessary items (such as keys, wallet, and cell phone) into the spa. And, depending on applicable laws, you may also want to post a sign limiting your liability for thefts from a vehicle parked on premises.
4. Encourage Social Distancing
How will you encourage your guests and employees to practice social distancing? We have all seen businesses with taped-off areas to indicate six feet—is there a way to create those visual reminders in your spa environment? Do your lobby and other common areas allow and encourage your guests and employees to be physically distanced from each other? If not, look at how you might be able to revise the usage of the space to foster these techniques.
Even those spas with more intimate lobbies and other common spaces can take steps to foster distancing. Encourage your guests to call from outside the lobby (perhaps from their car?) to check in when they arrive. Then, contact them when the technician is ready for the appointment and escort them directly from the front door to their treatment room. Consider also prohibiting walk-ins, perhaps by posting signage on the door to direct those individuals to call or visit your website to schedule an appointment. They could even do so from just outside your door!
5. Retail Space
Think about how best to handle your retail section of the spa. While the “easy” answer is to remove all products, of course that has the potential to (significantly) impact your bottom-line. If you normally display inventory throughout a common area such as the lobby, you might want to update the display with photographs and keep the physical items in a storage room until the time of purchase. This will minimize the amount of cleaning that you will have to do by reducing the number of people who potentially touch each item. It may also have the added benefit of creating more space in your common areas, further allowing you to encourage social distancing.
6. Take Precautions with Health Information
If you are going to gather health information about your guests and employees, think about if and how you are going to maintain that information. Consider, for example, taking the temperature of each employee and guest upon arrival but before they enter the spa. The individual’s temperature could be considered medical information, so you want to think carefully about who will have that information (i.e., who took the person’s temperature) as well as whether you will record it in some fashion. Think also about whether it might be useful to have a daily record to demonstrate that you did take the temperatures of the individuals present that day (guests and employees who clocked in), but balance that against not gathering too much information.
Spa employees may be used to receiving some medical information, such as disclosures about skin conditions, sports injuries, and the like. This is a great time to revisit the need to keep all medical information confidential, lest your employees share information and create significant risk for the spa.
7. If an Employee or Guest Tests Positive
Finally, be prepared for one of the “worst-case” scenarios: an employee or guest notifies you after being at the spa that they have tested positive (or been exposed to someone who tested positive). [Ed: It is recommended that you understand and comply with any guidelines from local, state or national governments or agencies in this area.] The best approach is to be prepared for this potential before it happens. As a first step, think about adding language to the client paperwork (if it isn’t there already) to discuss that there are risks associated in coming to the spa, including but not limited to the potential that a guest may contract an illness during the visit. To the extent allowed under applicable law, a spa would be wise to have all guests waive such risks.
Also plan in advance for what you will do if there is a diagnosis or exposure. There aren’t “right” answers, but questions to consider include: Will you notify the employees or guests that they may have been exposed? Will you temporarily suspend business for any period of time? Will you hire a professional cleaning service? (If so, who?) Will you require your employees to be tested or offer to pay if they choose to be tested?
Ultimately, one of the only certainties in this uncertain time is that even spas that do all the “right” things may find themselves subject to a claim or lawsuit. That said, thinking through these considerations and working with experienced legal counsel can have tremendous advantages. The more that spas think about their potential liability and make informed decisions about how to proceed, the better prepared they will be to defend that possible claim and focus on providing the best spa experience possible to guests and employees.
ABBE GONCHARSKY, J.D., is an experienced lawyer specializing in assisting businesses with risk analysis, labor and employment law and human resources practices. She has previously spoken at the ISPA Conference & Expo on topics around legal issues in the spa.