Corporate Culture, Employer Branding, Leadership

Case Study: How Massage Envy Has Responded to Allegations of Sexual Assault

With sexual harassment and sexual assault in the headlines daily, a company may wonder how it should respond to employee or customer allegations. Massage Envy, the largest chain of franchised massage spas in the United States, recently faced this issue.

Initial Response

Allegations against the company, which operates nearly 1,200 locations nationwide, have been well publicized; CNN and other media outlets have covered the story. Reporting initially focused on one woman, who filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging she was sexually assaulted while getting a massage.

However, on November 28, BuzzFeed published an article, which indicates that as many as 180 women have “filed sexual assault lawsuits, police reports, and state board complaints against Massage Envy spas, their employees, and the national company.”

At the time, Massage Envy issued a statement in response to the BuzzFeed article. In part, it reads:

“The article references 180 reported incidents. These occurred over a span of 15 plus years and 125 million massages. But, we believe that even ONE incident is too many, so we are constantly listening, learning, and evaluating how we can continue to strengthen our policies with respect to handling of these issues.”

Recent Response

Apparently the company did review its policies.

On December 5, Massage Envy CEO Joe Magnacca released a letter, which is worth sharing in its entirety:

Throughout Massage Envy’s 15-year history, safety in the treatment room has been – and always will be – paramount. The recent, heartbreaking stories of sexual assault suffered in Massage Envy franchise locations caused us to take a hard look at our business and at how we protect the members and guests who have placed their trust in the brand.

Last week, we shared the first steps that we have taken. Today, we’re announcing a six-point plan, to drive additional, meaningful change. This plan will be rolled out and implemented across the network over the coming weeks.

Massage Envy Commitment to Safety:

  • Prevention: We are mandating updated background screening for all massage therapists on an annual basis. We’re also launching a fully-automated, third-party system with UBS (Universal Background Screening), consistently rated the country’s top background screening company, that tracks compliance of service providers’ employment requirements in real time. And, the network has just recently completed a review of all massage therapist files to ensure they have completed background and reference checks, have current licensure or certification and that annual training requirements have been met.
  • Reporting: We are requiring that if a client makes an allegation of sexual assault, the franchisee will provide the client with contact information for local law enforcement and offer a private room to complete the call.

Investigations: We are creating a qualified list of independent third-party resources that we will make available to assist franchisees in their investigations of sexual assault claims.

  • Review: We are partnering with RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN works to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure perpetrators are brought to justice. Experts from RAINN will begin an end-to-end review of our policies and procedures – including reporting and investigation. They’ll recommend changes and together we will put change into action.
  • Support: We are working with RAINN on response services, including victim support, and through the National Sexual Assault Hotline, free access to immediate confidential assistance, trained staff and other resources.
  • Guidance: We are forming the Massage Envy Safety Advisory Council. This group, which will initially include a representative from RAINN, as well as Danielle Dick, who was instrumental in advocating for this change, will help us develop, maintain, and implement strong safety and support standards. We’ve also created a dedicated corporate department that will lead the development and implementation of safety policies, supported by RAINN and the Advisory Council.

We believe the work we’re doing today can serve as a solid foundation for change across the industry, and we’re working with industry groups – like the American Massage Therapy Association – to move that conversation forward.

The safety and well-being of members and guests has been our mission from day one and our commitment has never been stronger. We know that you put your trust in the brand, and we will keep working to earn it.

Best Practices

The steps Massage Envy has outlined are foremost aimed at safety. But because they also address the issue head-on, the steps will likely help repair a tarnished customer and employer brand.

In addition, by including recruiting and hiring and workplace operations as focal points, the company shows it is making a concerted effort to change its culture.

Paula Paula Santonocito, Contributing Editor for Recruiting Daily Advisor, is a business journalist specializing in employment issues. She is the author of more than 1,000 articles on a wide range of human resource and career topics, with an emphasis on recruiting and hiring. Her articles have been featured in many global and domestic publications and information outlets, referenced in academic and legal publications as well as books, and translated into several languages.