Conquer the Controversial


For decades health club facility owners have mainly had to concern themselves with maintaining equipment in order to manage the risk of lawsuits by members who claimed negligent injury.

Today, however, facility owners have a host of other issues that can only be classified as controversial.

Now, as a club owner, you have to be knowledgeable and train your employees to be wise to issues such as breastfeeding, sexual harassment, sexual orientation, gender identification, handicap access and religious beliefs among others.

All of these issues must be treated in the same way you would treat potential gym injuries. Of equal, if not greater importance, is having the appropriate liability insurance policy in place. It’s also a good idea to review your insurance coverage every six months or annually with your agent.

According to an article published last year in Club Industry written by attorney Thomas Margolis, there are five things every club owner should be aware of and practice, as Margolis says, “to potentially reduce exposure to lawsuits related to these issues.”

“1. Know the law. Develop a comprehensive written policy based on what federal, state and local law requires.

“2. Realize the necessity of being aware of sensitive and controversial issues. If these issues are not confronted, the negative ramifications are not just legal; mishandling such a situation could negatively affect your health club’s reputation.

“3. Educate yourself and your staff on the legal issues involved, as well as the standards and practices employed in the industry. Understand the importance of training staff – one insensitive or unprofessional employee could potentially undermine your risk management program.

“4. Create an atmosphere in your club that is inclusive, respectful, courteous and professional to all members and potential members of your health club. You may be able to reduce your exposure to lawsuits if you and your staff maintain such an atmosphere.

“5. Consult with an informed attorney in your area. Although it’s important to have a personal injury attorney who can help you when someone gets hurt in your gym, it’s also important that your attorney understands the federal, state and local laws that pertain to sensitive and controversial issues.”