In an age when few people can remember their lives without cell phones, fitness facility operators are finding it more difficult to enforce their policies on no cell phones in the locker rooms.
“The biggest challenge for our industry right now is cell phones in the locker rooms,” says Jeff Linn, executive director of Weymouth Club, Weymouth, MA.
The challenge is how to balance the needs for both privacy and cell phones.
“If you say you can’t use cell phones in a club, they’ll just join another club,” says Jim Evans, fitness consultant and vice president of Bay Area Family Fitness near San Francisco. “They’re so connected to their phones right now, they don’t want to give them up for anything.”
Although the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) issued a report titled “Cell Phones in Health Clubs: An IHRSA Best Practice” that suggested that club owners establish a policy that bans patrons from using cell phones in locker rooms, some fitness facility operators see enforcing cell phone bans as a losing battle.
The University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign bans cell phone use in the locker room of its Activities and Recreation Center. However, that policy may be overturned in the next year, says Erik Riha, lead assistant director of marketing for campus recreation.
“We can’t have staff in the locker rooms all the time, so there’s really no way to enforce it,” he says. “The students think the policy’s foolish because nobody pays attention to it. They use their cell phones for everything, including checking class work.”
Even though the policy may change, Riha notes that the rec center’s locker rooms have more private space since a 2008 renovation. The facility now includes family changing rooms. Gang showers were replaced with individual stalls. The women’s locker room now has a private area outside of each shower stall.
Gang showers are a thing of the past, says Christa Plaza, principal and architect with Essenza Architecture, Boulder, CO. Club owners now want private showers and changing rooms, she says, which adds protection against cell phone issues. Another layer of privacy can be added by creating semi-private pods of lockers with mirrors on each side.
“It makes it harder to see into the changing area,” Plaza says. “And it’s a lot more obvious if people are trying to record you with a camera because there are only a few spots they’d be able to stand.”
But with several cases of people surreptitiously taking pictures in locker rooms reported each year, some legal experts say that club operators should not abandon having a cell phone policy. Posting a clear policy in locker rooms and including that policy on a separate piece of paper in new members’ packets can provide extra protection in a legal case, says Cristina LaMarca, associate attorney at Kaufman Borgeest & Ryan LLP, New York.
“It helps you show that you took affirmative steps to prevent a policy violation,” LaMarca says. “It makes it easier to overcome a lawsuit.”
However, with that policy comes monitoring responsibility.
“Staff should do periodic sweeps in the bathrooms and changing rooms,” she says. “Employees should walk through occasionally to help enforce the rules. The important thing is to just be aware.”
Oftentimes, club members help spot problems, especially when the rules are clearly posted. At Wheaton Sport Center, Wheaton, IL, members have access to a locker room phone on which they can call the front desk to report violations.
“Someone can pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, there’s someone on a cell phone in here,’” says Karla Butler, membership and marketing director for Wheaton Sport Center. “More often than not, it’s someone who just didn’t remember the rules and is on their phone talking.”
Evans says that members often do not realize that the policies are intended to prevent issues with camera phones, thinking they refer to being polite.
“Once you talk to them about that potential of someone taking your picture in the locker room, then they start to understand,” Evans says.