It’s never easy dealing with a difficult client. As owner of your studio or gym, however, chief among your many responsibilities is to provide your clients and staffers with a safe, positive experience. Your students come to you to get a great workout and it’s unacceptable for them to feel alienated, threatened, harassed or even slightly uncomfortable during their visit, especially on behalf of another client. Here, we take a look at activities that might warrant banning a member from your studio and the best way to resolve the issue.

First and foremost, all memberships and waivers should include a code of conduct that students must sign prior to partaking in classes. Here’s your opportunity to clearly identify practices that are not allowed, such as:

  • anything involving sexual or lewd conduct
  • bullying (in person or on social media)
  • intimidation
  • physical or verbal harassment
  • not paying membership fees
  • profane language
  • phones or video cameras in the locker room
  • erratic behavior
  • treating staff or classmates rudely
  • discrimination
  • sharing a membership
  • having multiple memberships
  • not following instruction in class or misusing/tampering with equipment

Beyond this, though, you likely come up against lots of grey area—murky scenarios where the right and wrong aren’t always clear. Your rule of thumb should be this: If one of your students or staffers feels uncomfortable, you’ve got a situation on your hands that needs to be dealt with. In addition to listing out the bannable offenses above in your code of conduct, you’ll also want to include a clause that states that any student can be banned at any time at the business owner’s discretion. Because you can’t be everywhere all the time, your staffers should be your eyes and ears for behavior that isn’t above board. For instance, if a member feels threatened or harassed, they might avoid filing a complaint and instead just stop coming to class. Having your teachers and staff watch closely for these scenarios will protect you against losing clients—or legal action, even.

While it’s easy to jump to the conclusion of banning a member for one of the above offenses, it’s often the case that every student deserves the opportunity to right their wrong. When a situation arises, it’s best to address it immediately with a warning to let them know it is unacceptable and what the outcome will be if their action continues. If the student who is in question is on the premises, pull them aside and give him or her a notice in person. If the member isn’t on-site, call them and address the matter over the phone. If the situation involves another member—let’s say that Cathy told you Susan’s been posting body-shaming photos of multiple students on her Instagram account—do not use names and do not disclose how the problem came to your attention. Remind the offender of the code of conduct they signed and let them know how you’ll proceed going forward—whether if that is with one more warning or a direct expulsion following another offense. After the warning has been given verbally, follow up with an email documenting the offense that you have the entire exchange in writing. If there is another student involved (Cathy, for instance), let them know separately that the matter has been addressed and remind them that you value their business and want them to remain a student.

If the offensive behavior continues, it’s your responsibility to officially ban this member. Keep the conversation as brief and professional as possible—avoid raising your voice or using inflammatory language. Remind the client that you had already given them a warning and since they have opted to ignore your notice, you’ll now be relinquishing them of their membership. Make it clear that they are not allowed to step foot inside the studio again. Alert staffers to call the police if the exchange escalates or becomes heated. If the member comes back to the studio, reach out to your attorney on the best way to move forward—either with with a formal membership ban, or in a heightened case, a restraining order.