Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal exploded into the public realm, the floodgates have opened and hardly a day goes by without new allegations, firings, resignations and apologies… or denials. #MeToo stories have shined the spotlight on bad behaviour in every industry. The fitness industry is no exception.
Our industry with it’s focus on anatomy and body image presents its own distinct challenges when it comes to sexual harassment. One simply needs to google the topic and you can find countless instances of allegations and lawsuits against clubs, managers and owners. There are cases involving female employees harassed by male coworkers and supervisors, male employees harassed by female supervisors and employees harassed by others of the same sex. And to further complicate matters, there are many scenarios involving members harassing employees and members harassing other members. This is hardly a new phenomenon in the fitness industry. However, with the heightened awareness of these issues today, it is even more important to ensure that our clubs operate with the outmost of professionalism and respect for all employees and members.
A recent Angus Reid survey found that 3 in 10 employees reported that they have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Harassment cases are a lose-lose situation for a company. It negatively impacts the employee (victim) as well as the reputation and potentially the financial status of the company. Not to mention, cases can escalate and result in climinate charges.
So, what can you do to ensure that your club culture is welcoming, respectful and free from harassment and discrimination? Very simply, as the saying goes – “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Here are four specific and practical steps to take.
1. Develop a comprehensive harassment policy. Be clear about what constitutes harassment and the process for reporting and investigating incidents. (visit your provinces Human Right’s Commission for more details). It is essential that the reporting mechanism is easily accessible to everyone whether it is a hotline, HR, through a website etc. This information should become part of your onboarding process and reviewed on a regular basis.
2. Start at the top. The person at the very top of the organization should communicate through their words and actions that there will be zero tolerance for any sexually inappropriate comments and behaviour. The reality is that this message will never be as powerful coming from Human Resources as it is from a CEO or owner.
3. Include zero tolerance language in every manager and supervisor’s performance expectations. Make it crystal clear that this behaviour will not be tolerated. One strike and you’re out. This will get people’s attention.
4. Investigate all incidents. Many victims do not come forward because they are afraid of repercussions or not being taken seriously. The worst thing a company or supervisor can do is nothing. Ignoring or dismissing a harassment complaint put its employees in harm’s way and its company at risk for a costly lawsuit. Investigations must be conducted swiftly and fairly.