The Legal Issues in Locker Room Privacy and Safety

You've chosen the features and amenities for your locker room, but have you considered all the policy and security issues you'll need to include?

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The locker room is a central feature in most health clubs, offering club members a convenient place to shower, dress, and store belongings during a workout. But locker rooms are also host to some of the most sensitive legal issues facing clubs, namely personal privacy and security.

Antidiscrimination Protection

For club operators, there are significant business implications regarding the use of public bathrooms and locker rooms by transgender individuals. What do you do when a member who identifies as transgender wants to use the locker room of the sex they identify with—not necessarily the one they anatomically match?

For more than 10 years, IHRSA has been working with state legislatures to acknowledge the problems that laws regulating the use of locker rooms may pose for health clubs. As of April 2018, 19 states, the District of Columbia, and a significant number of major cities have passed laws saying it’s illegal to prohibit transgender use of their chosen locker room.

The state of Massachusetts recently passed guidance "that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in places of public accommodation."

“Locker rooms are host to some of the most sensitive legal issues facing clubs, namely personal privacy and security. ”

These guidelines may persuade legislatures in other states to issue similar guidelines, as well. And, whether or not there's such a law in your state, they provide you with a little more information to help you determine what to do should one of your members identify as transgender.

To help you navigate this issue, IHRSA has created a 50-state chart Locker Room Privacy: Laws by State, identifying what the public accommodation laws say in your state. Reviewing the applicable law is a good first step in creating your club's policy on locker room privacy. If you have questions, you can reach IHRSA public policy at gr@ihrsa.org or 800-228-4472.

Other Locker Room Security Issues Include

Camera phones

Camera phones, if used improperly, can threaten the privacy of your members. Due to the high risk, many club operators ban cell phones in locker rooms and restrooms. Though no instances of misuse have been reported to IHRSA, operators are wise to be concerned about potential liability. If you don’t want to prohibit cell phone use in the locker room entirely, a helpful tip is to establish a clear cell phone policy, and make it visible with proper signage.

Also, IHRSA monitors state legislatures for bills relating to cellular and camera phone privacy. These types of bills are typically introduced in a small number of states per year, so while it doesn’t necessarily warrant the designation of a legislative trend, it’s still on IHRSA’s radar.

Children in opposite-gender locker rooms

Many club operators, especially those with family-oriented facilities, struggle with the issue of allowing small children in opposite-gender locker rooms. While most would agree it would be unsafe to leave small children unattended in a locker room, others express valid concerns about the invasion of privacy that children may pose. Here are some tips to help address this issue:

  • Offer free, short-term babysitting (for example, 20 minutes) while a parent showers or changes.
  • Establish an age-limit restriction governing children in opposite-gender locker rooms. If possible, consult a physician to give your club’s policy added credibility. If an age restriction isn’t imposed, post signs asking parents to use discretion when bringing opposite-sex children into the locker room.

Property theft 

Locker rooms have become the unfortunate target of thieves in recent years. The following tips can help prevent thefts from this vulnerable area:

  • Front-desk staff should make eye contact with all patrons as they enter and exit, and check the identification of all guests - identification is a powerful crime deterrent.
  • Have staff conduct frequent, random sweeps of locker rooms.
  • Remind patrons to lock their lockers and to not bring valuable items into the club.

Lilly Prince

Lilly Prince is a contributor to Club Business International.