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By Paul Sandford, Director, ASM Plus

Cummings is the customer relations director of Gymfit, a well-established chain of fitness centres with a number of elite gyms located in the wealthy districts of a number of UK cities. He notes that of late his staff have received a number of complaints about one particular gym based in Highgate, North London whose annual membership is £800 per person plus VAT. Some of the showers in the men’s changing rooms do not work properly, a number of lockers are broken, well-worn safety treads on two sets of stairs have not been replaced in three years and around 5% of the machines and devices in what is a very well used facility are permanently out of action.

Over the past few weeks there has been a steady stream of complaints including a number which emanate from a large insurance company that on behalf of some of its employees pays 25 annual gym memberships. A member of the company’s legal department has written to Cummings firstly highlighting a proposal to place an embargo on any membership renewals and new memberships and secondly to review current memberships. Additionally, the letter states that if the current issues are not addressed within a very short period of time the company will unilaterally terminate any current membership arrangements and sue for damages. This is attributed to what are termed fundamental breaches of contract on the part of Gymfit. To date the rather bullish Cummins has largely ignored the complaints and resorted to sending a number of rather inaccurate, sometimes offensive emails to the branch manager, Miss Jones, blaming her.

The rather distressed Miss Jones takes legal advice. She is advised by her solicitors that if she were to resign, because Cummings has made her position untenable, she has a good case for claiming that she has been constructively dismissed and for seeking compensation in the Employment Tribunal.

Gymfit’s head of HR, Mr Wright, becomes involved and realises that for no good reason his company is in danger of being drawn into two sets of costly, protracted litigation and that any attendant adverse publicity could damage its reputation. Equally, he appreciates that in both the short and long term the loss of the considerable amounts of money that the insurance company might otherwise pay will be very significant and is concerned that the Highgate gym might have to close. Taking up a suggestion from the insurance company’s legal department Mr Wright agrees to an ASM PLUS convened online facilitated meeting involving himself, Cummings, Miss Jones and a member of the insurance company’s finance department. Tacitly supported by Mr Wright the facilitator ensures that all parties have their say and in the course of a three-hour roundtable confidential discussion, Cummins apologises to both Miss Jones and the insurance company. Under the auspices of Mr Wright, a remedial plan of action is devised and Gymfit resolves to overhaul its complaints procedures so as to avoid a repetition of what has transpired.

Because the facilitator had short telephone discussions with all parties beforehand and they understand how the facilitated meeting process works, it proved to be a very constructive process and agreement was reached inside the allotted three-hour period. Prior to the facilitated meeting, many hours of Gymfit and insurance company time had been wasted with a lot of bad feeling generated. The ASM PLUS facilitator’s fee was £350.00 plus VAT and because as a result, a plan of action was devised, the Highgate members are appeased, the threat of costly litigation is averted and a very important revenue stream is preserved. Not least because both his and Cummings’ notional hourly rate is £150.00, Mr Wright is mindful that if matters had not been resolved the two of them would have had to spend many more hours embroiled in litigation that can now be put to much better use. Accordingly, he concludes that the facilitated meeting process was excellent value for money.