Don't let legal issues put you in a difficult spot
Tue, August 19, 2014 at 15:16
Brad Spiegel in Helen Durkin, IHRSA Institute, IHRSA Live, Legal & Legislative, Tom Richards, legal issues

Helen Durkin, IHRSA's executive vice president of Global Public Policy.Educational sessions at IHRSA events are a great way to help you with almost every part of running a health club. Sales, membership, programs, marketing, social media and more are offered at almost every convention or gathering run by IHRSA.

It is also a chance for us to delve deeper into some of our offerings. As the organization that grows, protects and promotes the health and fitness industry, IHRSA, too, has many offerings that can help in running a gym or club.

Helen Durkin, executive vice president of Global Public Policy, and Tom Richards, senior legislative counsel, hosted an education class, "Day-to-Day Legal Issues," during the IHRSA Institute earlier in August to explain some of the bigger and more prominent legal issues for clubs. They went over specific scenarios their department often runs into while also taking questions from the crowd, providing the best answers.

This is an area that is often overlooked, but - more than memberships, programming and even staff problems - it can make or break a club if ownership does not have a firm grasp on responsibility, laws and other legal issues.

“Legal issues are the nightmares realized and opportunities lost,” said Richards. 

The pair started off by presenting different situations that had one, or a few, issues that need attention. Here is one:

During the first 6 months of her membership, Susan visited Club Fitness nearly every day, often working out in the morning and the afternoon. She rarely spoke to anyone, but put forth tremendous effort during each visit. Her vigorous workouts were inspiring to some members, while others expressed concern to club management about her increasingly frail appearance. Last week, Susan emailed the general manager of Club Fitness to express an interest in hiring a personal trainer and to request a sign language interpreter for the training sessions to accommodate her hearing impairment, which you previously knew nothing about. Before responding, you retrieved her health history questionnaire from the plastic bin behind the front desk and noticed that she made no mention of her hearing impairment on the form. You also note that she responded “yes” to the question, “do you experience unexplained dizziness or fainting.” Shortly thereafter, you are informed that a sign language interpreter could cost the club $50/hour.

The attendees, Durkin and Richards talked about the possible red flags. A couple that came up included keeping the health history questionnaire where anyone can get access to it; possible discrimination and/or liability; and whether she had a previous medical issue necessitating a waiver or doctor’s note, absolving the club of responsibility.

There were also true/false questions presented that was designed to better educate while also pointing out areas that otherwise may not have been considered. One example:

Every treadmill in a health club must be accessible by a wheelchair. True or false

The answer was false, but every kind of equipment should have at least one that is accessible.

Of course most clubs will rarely see sticky situations. However, when they do it is always good to contact Tom Richards at

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