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Massage Today
September, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 09

Spa Letters

By Steve Capellini, LMT

Author's Note: The Spa Letters column features news, personality profiles, trends, and plenty of professional possibilities for LMTs in the spa industry. The style is epistolary, meaning the articles are letters to a fictional massage therapist friend of the author.

Dear Lou,

Uh-oh. This is one of the hardest decisions you've had to make for a long time. You've only been the supervisor of the spa therapists for a few months, and already you're being asked to fire somebody! The situation came about swiftly, as these things do, and now suddenly the entire staff is looking at you to see what you'll do. It's crisis time.

A Case of Harassment

One of the male therapists under your supervision has been accused of sexual harassment by several female guests. Management, of course, says to get rid of him right away, but you're inclined to investigate further and see if it's not as black and white as they might think. It might be a mistake, you feel, to engage a knee-jerk reaction in such a delicate situation. Tact and discretion are called for, so I totally agree with you. One thing is certain - maintaining the integrity of your spa and your profession is a top priority. Your decisions and actions, in close coordination with those of the owners and the spa director, are critical at this juncture.

There are several steps to take as you proceed gingerly through these dangerous waters.

Get the Whole Picture

In emotionally charged situations like this, hysterics often rule. You're going to be bombarded from all sides by people who believe fiercely in their own version(s) of the story. Don't let one point of view sway you, especially in the beginning. At times it may be a struggle, but, in my view, it's best to remain impartial, perhaps even seeming aloof, as the various parties bring you their points of view. After all, you're being called upon to function somewhat like a judge in this situation.

Supervisor First, Therapist Second

You're also now acting as a supervisor, not a therapist. When you decided to accept this position, you knew there would be times when you would be pitted against your former colleagues. This is one of those situations. The therapists on staff are looking at you with their own agendas. Some hope that you recommend firing the therapist, because they don't want the taint of scandal hanging over their workplace. Some may feel their in competition with this therapist and would like to see him gone. Others hope that you recommend not firing him, because they feel it's too easy for people to wrongly accuse therapists these days, and that our profession should be protected against unfounded attacks.

Know one thing: After you make your decision and pass your recommendations onto the spa director, you are not going to be popular with everyone in both camps. Sides will be chosen. Lines will be drawn. It's part of the price you pay for becoming a decision maker. And now that you're in that situation, how can you be sure you're making the best decision? You can never be 100% sure, but the best thing you can do is follow the precepts of justice and reasonableness as they've been handed down to you. Then act from your heart.

Look at the Law

To form an objective, well-thought-out opinion in this situation, you need to know what is legal and illegal in your state. Believe it or not, rules change from place to place regarding draping and precise conduct, although we all have the same ethical guidelines to follow, as laid down by massage industry associations. Know these guidelines and the law well. In addition, it may help to understand more broad-based statutes regarding sexual misconduct in general.

Recent years have seen a rampant increase in accusations of sexual harassment, some of which have been more founded than others, and many of which cannot conclusively be proven one way or the other. When it's a question of two people in a room alone, it's a matter of one person's word against another's. I've seen large judgments against respectable men in diverse fields, based solely on the word of a young woman who may or may not have had revenge or vindictiveness as a prime motivation.

A Personal Experience

I feel comfortable giving you this advice, Lou, because I dealt with similar situations on two occasions. Once, while supervisor at a large resort spa, I was called into the spa director's office in the middle of a busy afternoon and asked to pull one of the therapists off the floor. He was handcuffed and led away by two officers, and I had to cover for his remaining clients that day myself. A woman who'd been a guest of the spa several weeks earlier had called the authorities and accused this therapist of rape. He left the profession in disgrace.

More recently, I was called to mediate in a case with accusations that were less severe, but nonetheless quite troublesome. A therapist at the spa at which I was consulting had been accused of "potentially inappropriate behavior" by several women over time. I met with him and the general manager of the property once, and it seemed we had the situation under control. There had been some misunderstanding, the therapist pleaded. He would be more careful about draping, decorum, and modesty in the future. He was a highly praised therapist at the spa and we didn't want to lose him. When two more women complained, however, we had no choice. He had to go.

In my opinion, the bottom line in these situations boils down to one essential question: Has a guest complained? If so, something is wrong -- end of story -- regardless of how sincere the therapist may appear while professing innocence.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to be prudish on this issue. I understand that some couples who met first as therapist/client in a massage encounter have ended up getting married. Attractions do happen. We can't turn off our humanity in the massage room. However, whatever attractions may surface need to be taken out of the massage room and into an acceptable arena before they are acted upon.

Spa therapists, especially males, have to be especially careful these days. Guests come to your resort expecting to relax, have a great time, and be given the royal treatment. Perhaps some of them let their guard down a little. It is unfair to take advantage of that relaxed attitude by instigating any unwanted sensual scenario. At the very least, the therapist in question is guilty of insensitivity, and the situation needs to be dealt with in a firm, swift manner.

I look forward to hearing how you've dealt with your particular situation. Until then, take care of yourself.

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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