As a professional massage therapist, you likely chose your career because you wanted to help people live better, healthier lives.
The same reason as the vast majority of your colleagues.
Recent news coverage of massage therapy has tended to spotlight the negative side of the industry, including multiple reports of sexual misconduct allegations against therapists.
Likewise, at some point in their careers, many massage therapists have had to deal with unwanted sexual advances from clients, though these often go unreported.
While many massage therapists are self-employed and have their own security protocols in place, the large massage franchises, due to their sizable share of the market, are in a unique position to offer industry-wide practices for keeping both clients and therapists safe.
MASSAGE Magazine interviewed spokespeople for Massage Envy and Massage Heights, two of the largest nationwide chains, about what their companies are doing to deal with and prevent misconduct in their locations.
While all major massage franchises were contacted, some were in the process of updating policies and weren’t ready to share information on these policies yet. Others did not respond to MASSAGE Magazine’s requests for interviews.
The Hiring Process for Massage Therapists
Like any business, massage franchises have specific procedures in place for hiring massage therapists; these procedures are designed to find the best candidates for the company as well as identify any individuals who might have a history of misconduct or other issues.
For Massage Envy, a spokesperson told MASSAGE Magazine via email, the hiring process begins with making sure a potential employee is eligible for employment.
“When a therapist applies for a position with a Massage Envy franchised location, the franchisee or someone else the owner has authorized must first verify that the therapist has not been identified as ineligible for hire in a Massage Envy network-wide database,” said the spokesperson.
Next comes the actual interview portion. Franchises usually give individual location owners a lot of latitude in determining what is included, typically phone and in-person interviews followed by a practical portion in which the potential employee must perform a massage on a staff member.
Alice O’Donnell, Vice President of People for Massage Heights, said her company’s interview process involves an over-the-phone screening interview, followed by an in-person interview.
“If the in-person interview goes well, they move into the practical piece, and then once that’s done the team regroups and decides whether to move forward with the candidate or not,” she told MASSAGE Magazine.
“We do heavily recommend that they do a practical with the massage therapist; at what point during the interview process they perform that practical is truly up to them,” O’Donnell added. “ Usually, we ask that the lead therapist do it and that’s typically who does it, so the lead therapist is on the table while the interviewee is performing the massage.”
If a Massage Heights franchisee decides to hire the candidate, reference checks, licensing checks and background checks take place at that point.
Massage Envy locations follow a similar procedure, including having the candidate perform a massage on the hiring manager or another Massage Envy therapist.
Then, “if the verbal and practical interviews go well, the next step … is a detailed background screening and reference check that all franchisees are required to perform,” said the spokesperson. “This includes a review to ensure the therapist meets state licensing and certification requirements.”
Once the mandatory background screening, reference check, and license review are completed, said the spokesperson, the Massage Envy franchisee can then choose whether or not to hire the therapist.
Once hired, a new Massage Envy therapist does not work with clients right away.
“Before he or she can be put on the schedule, there are required training courses that must be completed to educate therapists on the safety standards and practices and how to treat every client with respect,” said the Massage Envy spokesperson. “Once the therapist has completed this required training, he or she can begin hands-on work.”
Massage Envy continues this training past the initial hiring stage. “Therapists are required to complete a minimum of four mandatory training courses and a practical evaluation every year to demonstrate their understanding of the training they’ve received,” the spokesperson added.
How Much Massage Franchises Know About the Therapists They Hire
“Detailed background screenings, reference checks, and a review to ensure state licensing and certification requirements are met are part of the required hiring process for massage therapists by all franchisees,” said Massage Envy’s spokesperson. “Therapists are also required to go through updated background screenings every year.”
The spokesperson also noted that Massage Envy uses an automated system to monitor therapists’ records in real time. “If there’s a problem, the system alerts the franchisee–– and the therapist in question is removed from the schedule until the issue is resolved,” the spokesperson said.
That system is operated by Universal Background Screening; this company is also used by Massage Heights, said O’Donnell, to do background checks on employees.
In addition to standard background checks, she said, this company may also handle reference checks for Massage Heights franchisees, and perform checks for aliases potential employees may be using.
Hours of Education Franchises Require of Therapists
“All Massage Envy therapists must meet state licensing and certification requirements,” said the company’s spokesperson.
“However, because licensing and certification requirements vary from state to state and because a license or certificate may be voluntary or not required in some states, all massage therapists are required to have a certificate demonstrating that they have completed a minimum of 500 hours of massage therapy education from an educational institution approved by their state,” the spokesperson added.
Massage Heights also uses states’ requirements as a basis for its own.
“As long as [therapists] have an active license with no previous infractions against the license that would come into question, and they’ve kept up with their CEUs, then that’s at least a starting point,” O’Donnell said.
“A lot of our busier Retreats and our tenured owners may require additional hours … but generally speaking, we follow the same guidelines,” she added.
How Franchises Handle Client Complaints
Spokespeople for both Massage Envy and Massage Heights emphasized their companies’ commitment to handling complaints against therapists with sensitivity, as well as a serious attitude toward dealing with misconduct.
“The Massage Envy network has always been committed to maintaining an accessible, inviting, safe and professional environment for the safety and well-being of every client and therapist, and that commitment has never been stronger,” said the spokesperson.
“This includes a partnership with RAINN—the largest non-profit anti-sexual assault organization in the country—to help evaluate the relevant policies and to help make sure the Massage Envy network is doing what it can to ensure the well-being of its clients and therapists alike.
“Franchisees are required to investigate and resolve every client complaint,” the Massage Envy spokesperson continued. “When there’s a report of inappropriate conduct, the franchisee is required to immediately remove the therapist in question from the schedule.
“If a client wants to call law enforcement, the franchisee is required to facilitate that call by providing appropriate contact information and a private room for the client to make the call.
“If, after its investigation is complete, the franchisee determines that the therapist engaged in inappropriate conduct, the franchisee is required to terminate the therapist and restrict the therapist in the Massage Envy network-wide database, thereby making the therapist ineligible for hire at any other franchise location,” the spokesperson concluded.
If a Massage Heights client complains about therapist misconduct, said O’Donnell, “We … take them to a private place to go to talk through it, take a formal complaint and then ask them if they would like for us to help them contact the local authorities or the state board.
“We also interview and investigate with other team members [who] were in the Retreat at the time of the incident so that we get a well-rounded story,” she noted, adding that if police aren’t investigating that a private investigator may be brought in if necessary, “to make sure that the claim is investigated in a very fair way.”
While the claim is investigated, “the therapist is pulled out of session immediately, and they’re suspended until the investigation closes.”
How Franchises Handle Clients Who Behave Inappropriately
Inappropriate behavior from massage clients, unfortunately, often goes unreported, as many therapists have become used to dealing with the occasional unwanted sexual advance. Both Massage Heights and Massage Envy encourage their therapists not to tolerate clients who make them feel uncomfortable during sessions.
“It’s important that everybody knows that our therapists are our most important and valuable asset for us,” O’Donnell said of Massage Heights.
“We want to make sure they feel safe, so … any time a therapist feels uncomfortable in a session, we give them the right to terminate the session and get out of the situation. And then if it has progressed into a situation where they’ve been inappropriately touched, we follow the same protocol that we would with any guest.”
Once a therapist reports an incident with a guest to Massage Heights management, “we would call that guest and tell them that there’s a claim that has been made, get their side of the story, talk to the therapist that it happened to, and follow the same protocol [we would if a client had complained about a therapist].
“We will basically fire the client if we deem the complaint to be legitimate,” O’Donnell continued. “Just like any other investigation process, we take claims on both sides very seriously.”
“The policies in place to protect clients are designed to protect therapists as well,” said Massage Envy’s spokesperson. “If a therapist comes forward to report an incident, the franchisee and location staff are under the same requirement to investigate the incident and to provide law enforcement’s contact information and offer a private room if the therapist would like to make the call.
“One of the goals of [Massage Envy’s] partnership with RAINN is to evaluate the standards, policies and programs that protect therapists, and empower them to voice their concerns,” said Massage Envy’s spokesperson.
Just like therapists who engage in misconduct, clients who engage in inappropriate conduct can be listed in Massage Envy’s database. “If a client is inappropriate with or mistreats a therapist, the franchise owner flags the client in the Massage Envy network-wide database, banning the client from all franchised locations in the Massage Envy network,” said the spokesperson.
Massage Heights also bans problem clients from future sessions; though O’Donnell notes this is difficult to do across franchise locations unless a police report is filed as a result of an incident.
What Franchises Are Doing to Increase Future Safety
Both Massage Heights and Massage Envy emphasized that their efforts to increase safety are ongoing and will continue to develop.
“In late 2017, the Massage Envy network announced its Commitment to Safety, a plan to further strengthen the safety policies and programs and to guide how Massage Envy franchised locations handle reports of sexual assault and support those who come forward,” said the spokesperson.
This plan, which “was born out of the deep dedication to ensure franchised locations maintain a safe, secure and professional environment,” said the spokesperson, takes into account input from clients, therapists and industry experts.
RAINN is also conducting an independent review of Massage Envy’s safety policies and procedures, from hiring and initial screening to the reporting and investigation of reports of inappropriate conduct.
“When this detailed review is complete, they’ll recommend changes and work to implement them,” said the spokesperson, adding that “clients and therapists who have an allegation of inappropriate conduct will also be provided with immediate response services through the National Sexual Abuse Hotline, which provides free and confidential assistance to victims of sexual assault.”
“Recently, the Massage Envy network announced the formation of the Massage Envy Safety Advisory Council,” the spokesperson continued. “This board of advisors is made up of leading authorities on sexual assault prevention, investigation and victim support, representatives from the massage therapy profession, Massage Envy franchisees, clients, and members of the Massage Envy Franchising leadership team.
“Council members will help guide and support our work to implement the Commitment to Safety plan. Each member of the council is a leading authority in their respective areas of expertise, and each of them is caring, compassionate and dedicated to safety. As we go forward, we will count on their experience, ideas and insights, and we will constantly work with franchisees to keep their clients and therapists safe.
“We’ve also created a dedicated corporate department—our Safety and Support Team—to develop and implement safety policies and procedures, guided by the Safety Advisory Council,” the Massage Envy spokesperson concluded.
Massage Heights is also committed to increasing safety. “We’re always reassessing, looking at other opportunities and how we can get better, to make sure that our guests are safe, our therapists are safe, everybody in our environment feels comfortable,” said O’Donnell.
“We are rolling out a third-party 800 number that will take all claims, from either employees or therapists,” she said, so that a person with a misconduct claim can report it to the company outside the franchise location, away from any other parties involved.
Massage Heights also has additional franchisee training planned, to help Retreat owners “show that they understand the situations regarding this topic, and they can communicate those to their employees.
“I’m going to continue to look at our policies and procedures to make sure that we do the best job we can to make everybody feel really good about Massage Heights and massage therapy in general,” O’Donnell added.
“One bad seed does not make an industry,” she said. “So I feel like the more we can partner together with other organizations, and help figure out what else we can do together to make us stronger, we’ll be that much better.”
Takeaways for Massage Therapists’ Private Practices
Self-employed massage therapists can learn from franchises’ safety policies in order to better keep their clients, employees and themselves free from harm:
- Make sure any prospective new hires’ resumes are accurate; that they hold the certifications they say they do; and that they pass a background check. Conduct a reference check and a verbal interview as well as a practice massage with anyone who is moving through your employment process.
- Provide training for your employees, and take CE classes yourself on customer service best practices.
- Take customer complaints seriously, and address them quickly in a professional manner. If a serious complaint is lodged, remove the employee from your practice schedule until the complaint is resolved.
- If a client wants to call law enforcement, provide appropriate contact information and a private room for the client to make the call.
- Tell your employees that if a client behaves inappropriately, the therapist can, and should, terminate the session immediately. If a therapist wants to call law enforcement, provide appropriate contact information and a private room for the therapist to make the call.
About the Author
Allison M. Payne is a freelance writer and editor who lives in central Florida. She has written many articles for MASSAGE Magazine and massagemag.com, including April 2018’s print cover story, “Massage for Children: These Global Ambassadors Are Changing Kids’ Lives Through Touch,” and “Massage Grant Provides ‘Fantastic Opportunity’ to Ease Caregiver Stress.”
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