8 Ways to Protect Your Health Club's Trainers and Clients

How close is too close? Keep your trainers and clients safe by following our guidelines for building and maintaining professional working relationships.

The relationship between personal trainers and clients is unique. It involves close physical contact and sharing private information. So it's no surprise that intimate relationships could develop.

Personal trainers who are friendly, who you can confide in, and who are trusted by their clients arguably have much higher client retention. However, trainers—and the club operators who employ them—should strive to maintain a professional image at all times.

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Here are eight tips to ensure your business supports a professional working environment that protects your trainers and members:

1. Hire trainers who are certified by recognized, national organizations that have policies addressing professionalism.

For example, the American Council on Exercise’s code of ethics requires its certified professionals to "establish and maintain clear professional boundaries."

2. During the interview process, ask trainers what they would do if they were asked out on a date by an attractive client.

Also, be sure to call an applicant's previous employers to learn why the applicant is seeking other opportunities. You may learn that the trainer has a habit of getting romantically involved with clients.

3. Enact a sexual harassment policy and consider providing training to prevent sexual harassment.

Effective October 9, 2018, New York State joins California, Connecticut, and Maine in requiring such training. In an era with more and more allegations of sexual harassment coming to light, you may not want to wait until your state mandates harassment training. Not sure what the policy should look like? Look at New York’s model harassment policy.

4. Before you establish a policy prohibiting trainers from dating clients, find out whether that’s legal in your state.

Some states have laws prohibiting businesses from discriminating against employees for engaging in lawful, off-duty conduct—e.g., dating. However, if your business can demonstrate that such conduct negatively affects an individual's job performance, it may constitute grounds for dismissal.

5. Upon being hired, let your trainers know, should they become romantically involved with a client, you prefer or require the client switches to another trainer.

This practice is more likely to be accepted if your trainers feel like part of a team instead of feeling like they are competing to bring in the most revenue.

6. Establish and enforce a strict policy regarding the confidentiality of personal information, which would apply to information a client shares with a trainer.

“Before you establish a policy prohibiting trainers from dating clients, find out whether that’s legal in your state.”

7. Treat your trainers like professionals and most will act that way.

In most professional relationships—such as those between lawyer and client, or doctor and patient—professionals are expected to forgo romantic relationships. Encourage your trainers to think and act like professionals.

8. Absolute clarity is essential.

Even one unscrupulous trainer can harm your club's reputation. Leave no doubt in the minds of your staff as to your club's policy on relationships between trainers and clients and the professionalism that you require at all times.

It is important to note that the above information should not be considered legal advice. Members with questions after reading should contact IHRSA public policy or share this information with a qualified attorney in their area of concern. Sharing this information with an attorney will save club operators a significant amount in research costs charged by legal professionals.

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Helen Durkin @HADIHRSA

Helen Durkin, JD, is the Executive Vice President of Public Policy for IHRSA. She is a champion of the health club industry and a committed advocate for physical activity, primary prevention, and public policies that promote wellness because it will take more than personal responsibility to get the world active. Helen lives to ski, dreams of knitting nirvana, is a mom, wife and springer spaniel owner.