how do I navigate being naked around employees in a locker room?

A reader writes:

I wanted to get your take on being nude in the workplace, specifically within a locker room setting.

I work at an upscale health and wellness facility that‘s known for exceptional locker rooms. The locker rooms have beautiful cedar wood saunas, eucalyptus steam rooms, hot tubs, rainfall showers … you name it, it’s here. My membership is complimentary, and personal use of the club is highly encouraged by both corporate and fellow club leaders. While I don’t use the club every single day, I do sometimes like to sit in the jacuzzi after a long day or I’ll take a shower before an early shift. But this is where it gets tricky.

I manage the locker room attendants. So, in theory, if I change my clothes or take a shower in the locker room, I’m essentially getting naked in front one of my own team members. I try to change respectfully by diverting my eyes, facing a wall, and always changing with a towel wrapped around my body, but my team members still manage to find me. For example, one of my team members came up to me when I was in my underwear, started a friendly (not work-related) conversation with me, and then proceeded to get completely naked next to me. I was stunned! Another team member also found me when I was walking to the showers in just a towel and asked me to help her fix a piece of equipment … in just my towel.

My company doesn’t have any specific policies related to team member locker room etiquette, so we just follow the general club guidelines that paying members do. I’m also not in a position to create any of these policies.

How can I protect myself from an HR standpoint when using the locker room with team members? Am I being too prudish? I get that it’s totally normal to be naked in a locker room, and I’m totally comfortable at other gyms, but something about being naked with my team members feels icky.

What further complicates the situation is that I’m gay. And being LGBTQIA+ in a gendered space is scary! Despite having a diverse team that generally seems to like me, my big fear is that one of them may eventually grow disgruntled over something silly and retaliate by saying that I acted inappropriately towards them in the locker room. There are obviously no cameras within the locker room, so, if that were to happen, there would be no way to disprove it. And yes, this fear may seem a little off-base, but it’s coming from recent personal experience. I had to terminate a team member last week, who, unbeknownst to me, was harboring a lot of homophobic feelings towards me. During the termination, he shouted homophobic slurs at me, threatened me, invaded my personal space, and even tore up things off of my desk before being walked out by security … yet he remained cordial to my straight assistant throughout the entire episode. Ultimate, that outburst scared me and showed me that I’ll never truly know what my team members are thinking or, frankly, if they have it out for me.

So, again, I would love to know how I can protect myself and still use the locker room amenities like every other team member and club leader does. I’m also open to any advice on how to move on from that team member’s homophobic outburst.

Well … because you manage locker room attendants, it’s pretty likely that they’ve developed a high baseline comfort level with nudity at work, since it’s built into their jobs. Just as you tend to get used to anything your job gives you a lot of exposure to, I assume they’re pretty blasé about locker room nudity (and that’s further evidenced by some of the behavior you’ve seen from them).

But yeah, I can see it feeling a lot weirder when you’re their manager. I think changing under a towel, as you’re doing, is a sensible way to navigate it, particularly since lots of people do that in locker rooms anyway. You could even change in a stall if it felt more comfortable to you. Some people would feel excessively prudish using a stall, so it really comes down to what you’re the most comfortable with. But it’s reasonable to decide that this isn’t just a locker room to you, it’s also your workplace, and so you’re going to take some extra privacy measures you wouldn’t take at the gym down the street.

However! You said you’re not in a position to create any locker room policies for your team … and I want to push back on that. You manage the locker room staff, so you should have standing to do that. Why not have a team guideline that says something like, “When an employee is using our locker rooms as a member, please respect their privacy and do not approach them while they’re changing, showering, or relaxing.” That could end up helping not just you, but others on your team too, since you might not be the only one who would prefer to be granted an imaginary shroud of invisibility while you’re doing those things.

Your concerns about being LGBTQIA+ in a gendered space add a different element to all of this. After your fired employee’s homophobic outburst, did you happen to report that to HR? If you haven’t yet, you should — and that could be an opening to ask HR for their input on this concern too. You could frame it as, “Especially given what happened last week, how do I protect myself from an HR standpoint when my team’s work puts them around nudity — and sometimes my or other employees’ nudity?” At a minimum, you might get some peace of mind from going on the record with your concerns — and frankly, it’s something that should already be on their radar given the nature of the work, so they might have a thoughtful response. (Of course, in a bad company there’s a risk you could hear, “Yeah, just don’t use the locker room then” — so you’d want to know your company here.) And either way, make sure they know about that homophobic outburst; they have an obligation to make it clear there’s no place in your company for that.

I also asked Jeff Main from Point of Pride, an organization that has expertise on a variety of LGBTQ+ topics, including the workplace and sex-segregated spaces, to weigh in. Jeff pointed out that locker rooms are “incredibly complicated and highly charged spaces,” and he said:

The situation you described is complex and it’s certainly understandable there didn’t seem to be a clear next step. After addressing the concern of immediate safety and well-being, protecting your employment status comes next in terms of priorities. Unfortunately, when it comes to potential misconduct accusations (or recourse if you face anti-LGBTQ+ behavior in general), it’s important to know your rights as you are your own best advocate. I’d recommend you reach out to local LGBTQ+ centers for personalized guidance on discrimination and harassment protections – CenterLink’s directory tool is a great place to start. Particularly in the wake of the devastating recent Supreme Court case, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. There are resources available to help you understand what your rights and protections are in an ever-shifting political landscape.

That said, identifying and engaging allies is an important part of developing a plan. Are there knowledgeable and supportive team members who might be able to assist you? Often managers and HR representatives are the first point of contact when navigating a case like yours but they aren’t always versed in how to support LGBTQ+ employees. Perhaps there is a coworker who can advocate on your behalf? Or, you might even find someone who can be your locker room buddy. Allies can have some really incredible super powers and a friend that can help protect a space for you is definitely one of them. If knowledgeable and supportive managers and HR reps aren’t available and you can’t find a trusted ally to support you, the journey might be a little bit harder but there are still things you can do.

A lot of people underestimate the amount they can contribute to culture change. You mentioned not being able to make policies – do you know that for sure? One of the powerful things about inclusive policies and practices is that they wind up benefiting everyone: policies that support you using the on-site facilities as a member and not just a team member wind up also supporting your employer by clearly demarcating time on and off the clock, which protect labor rights and the company. While it’s obviously preferable to create inclusive policies because of the importance of creating a safe and affirming space, sometimes even the smallest crack can bring light to a dark room…

When it comes to your former teammate’s outburst, I’m so sorry you experienced that. … Your letter didn’t mention any response to this incident from your employer (either your manager or your company) and unfortunately, this is something that happens far too often. It can be easier to assume that everyone has the same response to a situation (even when they don’t), rather than have an uncomfortable conversation that ultimately helps build a stronger, more resilient team. As a manager, you help define and defend the space for your team, especially when it comes to establishing that threats and violence are never acceptable. Even if your manager isn’t knowledgeable about supporting the LGBTQ+ community, the type of behavior you described has absolutely no place at work and that’s something that everyone should be on the same page about. If it hasn’t been addressed yet, now could be an opportunity for all staff to come together and discuss what happened openly and help ensure such an experience never happens again (for both staff or a client of the facility.)

Finally, we want to note that the reality is that a lot of the time members of historically excluded communities wind up assuming a disproportionate amount of responsibility and emotional labor when it comes to making a safe and inclusive workspace. We truly wish that were not the case but as a society, we’re not at (yet) at a point where people impacted by exclusionary policies and practices don’t have to constantly fight to make space for themselves.

{ 188 comments… read them below }

  1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    “members of historically excluded communities wind up assuming a disproportionate amount of responsibility and emotional labor when it comes to making a safe and inclusive workspace.”
    Louder for the people in the back (of civilization).

    1. Elle*

      I’m so sad that this person is being put in this position, but so glad that this letter was posted so that folks specifically see the portion about how vulnerable queer people are in spaces like locker rooms. Any time I’m in a locker room, I’m extremely aware that some homophobe could accuse me of something. Same with getting a wax or other service that involves needing to be nude- do I out myself to the service provider and then deal with whatever weird crappy they say or do? Do I leave it alone and risk getting accused of “hiding” something if they find out? I don’t think straight people realize how the “lesbians are scary groomers” rhetoric actually affects people’s lives.

      1. Enby's mom*

        I get it.

        I’ve started to resent places that have binary, communal locker rooms with zero private changing space, not even a small “family/accessible” bathroom adjacent to the other.

        It’s terrible for kids in schools…not every kid who “forgets” to change after gym class is unaware of the resulting hygiene issues.

      2. anonymouse*

        I don’t think straight people realize how the “lesbians are scary groomers” rhetoric actually affects people’s lives.
        It’s astounding.
        My mom was a brilliant (by any modern metric woman). But just the indoctrination…
        When the Catholic church scandal broke the news was everywhere at every level.
        During a news report, my brilliant mother stated that a lot of gay men probably went into the seminary because they were confused, guilty, unwilling to live as a gay man.
        Me: I bet you are right. But they are not the ones r***ping children. Ma, seriously. Think about this.
        And to her credit, she did. A lightbulb clicked that this deviant criminal behavior was being weaponized against gay people.

        1. JM60*

          Anyone who is concerned that men abusing boys is an indication that gay men represent a disproportionate danger to minors should read the following piece by a psychology professor. It clears up a lot of confusion and goes into the research, showing that there’s no reason to suppose that LGB individuals are more likely to sexually abuse minors:

          https://lgbpsychology.org/html/facts_molestation.html

      3. Michelle Smith*

        Agreed. I’m nonbinary and basically uncomfortable everywhere that has gendered bathrooms/locker rooms. I don’t know what to do or where to be, so I try to avoid needing to use them as much as humanly possible. It’s so stressful.

  2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    Yes, OP, I would follow Alison’s advice and make it a team policy that when the team is using the locker room, they are members, not working. That should solve the issues of asking you to come fix a piece of equipment WHILE WEARING ONLY A TOWEL. Good grief, I am so sorry that happened.

    BTW, I know it was shocking in the moment. But in case it happens again, practice now saying I will be there in a minute let me get dressed. Then go in a stall to change to avoid the person following you to make sure you don’t forget while you change.

    1. Please remove your monkeys from my circus*

      Rather than getting dressed right then, direct the employee to whomever they would go to with that problem if you weren’t there—because if you’re in the locker room on your way to the shower, you are not At Work. (This can be a challenge in my workplace, too—just because you lay eyes on me within the physical boundaries of the workplace does not mean I’m working, or that I can drop everything for what you need at this exact moment…

      1. Paulina*

        Yes. And a policy about respecting employees’ ability to also be present as members, off the clock, can be made more general than OP’s specific concerns about their state of clothing. There are other workplaces where employees can also sometimes be customers, and a staff person looking for help may sometimes need to be reminded that the colleague they found first may actually be a customer at the moment, not on shift. And a policy about respecting employee’s off-the-clock time sounds like it should go over well to the staff, since it also means respecting them.

    2. Naomi*

      Yes, OP, in additional to general policies about locker room behavior, you can certainly set boundaries for yourself! It’s OK to respond in the moment with “Can you give me a moment to get dressed first?” or “I can help you with that after my shower.”

    3. Lulu*

      Years ago when I was in college, I had a summer gym membership in my hometown. I was trying to cover the bare minimum of myself while headed to the shower (of course the towels are the size of postage stamps), and an acquaintance from high school noticed me and tried to strike up a conversation. She wanted to catch up, hear what I’d been up to, chat about whatever was going on, but I was naked and clearly uncomfortable!! My discomfort showed, and she got annoyed with me that I didn’t want to talk to her. We had only ever been vague acquaintances! This taught me that different people have some really different ideas about when is a good time to talk to someone, and also different ideas about nudity. Perhaps she’d been on a sports team and gotten really comfortable with nudity in the locker room. I hadn’t, though. So that’s all to say that I think having a clear and explicit conversation about what *workplace* norms are around nudity will likely be very helpful. It doesn’t even need to be a formalized policy. It can just be “Hey team, let’s remember that we also get the benefit of membership to use in our free time. Let’s been mindful of that when we see coworkers using the facility, since we’re still in our workplace and we have the added layer of being colleagues. That means giving each other some space when changing, waiting to chat until we’re dressed, etc. I know everyone’s comfort levels will vary and it might not bother you, but we need to start from a place of assuming that when we’re off the clock and naked, it’s probably not the time to talk.”

  3. CityMouse*

    I’m torn about the “don’t approach people in locker rooms” issue, because I think for a lot of people, it’s super normal to chat while changing, including being greeted in locker rooms. Sauna conversations are particularly common. But I get why being approached in that situation and having to set it as a personal boundary would be uncomfortable. But having a flat policy seems like overreach.

    So it’s hard to put the onus on LW, but I do think saying “hey let me finish here and we’ll chat” should be enough.

    I’d go more with general “Please respect individual boundaries” instead of “Don’t approach people”.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      I think there is still room in the proposed “When an employee is using our locker rooms as a member, please respect their privacy and do not approach them while they’re changing, showering, or relaxing” policy for employees using the locker rooms as members to chit-chat socially with other members using the locker rooms. I assume any existing policy on employees approaching and/or chatting with non-employee members will not change.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        Also when they’re anywhere in the facility using the resources as a member, don’t approach them to talk about work.

        When someone is using cardio equipment, swimming, sauna, etc, they don’t want to approached to talk about work issues or topics.

        Two issues: locker room/undressed the LW would prefer no interaction even friendly chat (which is a bit different). But Other places when acting as a member, don’t approach about work.

    2. Meep*

      Think about it this way. Retail workers cannot work while off the clock. Why is OP’s situation any different just because their butt is hanging in the wind?

      1. CityMouse*

        OP mentioned both work and casual conversations. Limits on when to ask someone to work are fine. Saying you can’t approach anyone socially is overreach.

        1. goddess21*

          dude. lw is worried about being hate-crimed. the mx manners bs is beside the point.

          and if you think someone who starts talking first isnt gonna start with the ‘i was so uncomfortable,’ think again

          1. CityMouse*

            I mean if LW is concerned about LGBT harassment the person who’s approaching the LW to chat socially while changing clearly isn’t viewing LW as a risk. If anything, you should be much more suspicious of the person who avoids LW jn the locker room.

            I’m also going to note that I have personal experience of both being out and expected to change with the swim team (I was not the only openly L/B girl on the team) and it was better that girls didn’t avoid us.

            1. goddess21*

              i mean im glad it worked out for you but it doesnt work out for everyone – check thread – gaydar exists but homophobe-dar does not and you can get hurt if you pretend it does

              1. *kalypso*

                Right? Someone comes up and starts chatting and next thing you know they’re saying you hit on them and because everyone saw you talking they just go with it and there’s nothing you can do to prove otherwise because there aren’t usually even cameras in changing areas for privacy and legal reasons, and they make sure nobody could hear what was really going on.

        2. Meep*

          No one said you couldn’t talk socially? I am confused where you got that from. So you are the one overreaching. I am saying don’t take up someone’s personal time while off the clock is a pretty normal rule.

          1. CityMouse*

            It’s one of the things OP raised as being uncomfortable with, and while there can be a policy about not asking people to do work off the clock, the level of social comfort has to be something decided individually.

            1. Meep*

              Upon re-reading, I realized that you confuse “socializing” with “chitchatting”. To break it down for you, socializing is an activity that both parties agree upon meant to help bound with the other party. Chitchatting is niceties that have a place and time. Talking to your coworker while they change is not an appropriate time for either, though.

              1. Michelle Smith*

                Socializing in this context just means talking socially (i.e. about personal topics rather than work-related ones). It can be and often is used interchangeably with terms like chit chatting. I don’t see how picking apart other people’s word choice is helpful to OP.

        3. Meep*

          Upon re-reading, I realized that you confuse “socializing” with “chitchatting”. To break it down for you, socializing is an activity that both parties agree upon meant to help bound with the other party. Chitchatting is niceties that have a place and time. Talking to your coworker while they change is not an appropriate time for either, though.

        4. sparkle emoji*

          I’d assume the employees on the clock are expected not to make casual conversation with the paying club members, I think it’s reasonable to have those same expectations when the club member is an off-the-clock co-worker.

    3. Nina*

      In Finland or Japan, maybe. OP seems to be in the US, which has different conventions about when it is and isn’t appropriate to acknowledge that you’ve seen your coworker naked.

      1. allathian*

        Yup, can confirm, I’m in Finland. Although it has to be said that I’ve never been to the sauna with my coworkers and don’t intend to go. The philosophy here is that nudity is seen but not looked at. Talking in the sauna is usually fine but you look at your own knees when sitting down and slide your gaze past people you pass as you come in and leave, you do *not* look directly at other people. The same thing applies in locker rooms.

  4. A Pinch of Salt*

    I would also recommend a towel with the velcro so it stays wrapped and up where you want it. I hate getting dressed right after I shower, but also didn’t want to flaunt all my stuff to my co-workers. $12 and a velcro towel later…problem solved.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      The whole way through reading this, I was thinking ‘towel poncho’. I had a gym membership where a lot of work people were around and it was a small town were people run into you and want to chat; I do not want to chat with people naked. A towel poncho hangs from your shoulders and your body is only exposed at the sides, but you have room to reach everything while you’re dressing. If someone comes up to you and gets into a really involved conversation, yeah in theory you should be able to say “give me a minute until I’m dressed”, but I just found it way easier to just do up the side poppers and I was totally dressed while they talked to me. A bonus was that it was an awesome poolside coverup (I don’t want students to see me in swimwear, thanks). I don’t know if it’s enough to make OP feel safe from homophobes, but it’s definitely the best thing for modest dressing room changing, without making a big deal out of being modest, I ever found. The only issue I had was people constantly asking me what it was called/where I got it.

      1. Prefer my pets*

        I did not know these were a thing! Thank you! I’m off to order several for teens headed off to college who are nervous about the shower rooms in their dorms.

        1. Not my real name*

          Robes for dorms have been great for my kids. I tend to buy the big thick ones for them, with generous pockets for all of their stuff. Then all of the undressing and dressing happens in the dorm room.

        2. Angstrom*

          May also be listed as “changing robe” or “surf poncho”. Commonly used by folks who want to change on the beach or in a parking lot.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Agreeing – or a beach wrap or light bathrobe. For swimming, we have light terry cloth bathrobes – bonus that they dry you off while you’re covered up.

  5. Quill*

    Honestly, even if there wasn’t nudity involved – I think that you need a policy about approaching people when they are using the facilities and not on the clock. (A policy that is mostly about NOT doing that.)

    Just because you work at a place of recreation doesn’t mean that work gets to intrude on that recreation when you’re not working.

    1. Quill*

      Approaching people for work stuff, that is. You can’t really get away from people chatting in the locker room.

      1. Marna Nightingale*

        Probably there are various levels of comfort among employees and OP is probably not the only one gamely trying to be cool with this.

        “No pants, no work talk”, short of an emergency on the level of “we need to evacuate the building”, should 100% be policy. Also, a lot of work talk shouldn’t be happening in the change room even if everyone involved is clothed, because there are members in there.

        A policy of “because we work together, it’s particularly important to keep the change rooms safe spaces for each of us when we’re there as members. Let’s agree to ignore each other and save the work and social chat for other parts of the facilities” is perfectly reasonable.

        (If both people are off work and deliberately came in to work out together, it’s reasonable to make that an exception. That’s a pretty clear statement of mutual comfort).

        1. Firecat*

          Nah that would be weird and out of touch with these types of facilities. If it’s you’re personal boundary to not chit chat at all in a locker room then exert that boundary nicely. Don’t expect a blanket ban policy to come to your rescue.

      1. The Meat Embezzler*

        This is tough because OP is in charge of the locker room attendants and well, locker room attendants spend a lot of time in the locker room.

        1. ecnaseener*

          But presumably they’re only *using* the locker room facilities while off the clock or on a break.

          1. Jellyfish Catcher*

            I assume that there are always locker room attendants working in the locker room.
            I can see how natural (heh) it would be if you spotted a supervisor, to just stroll over and ask a work question.

            Are there any locations that supervisors could change in relative privacy? Also, a policy that nobody brings up work discussions unless/until all parties are clothed, for everyone’s comfort.

    2. theletter*

      +1

      I feel like a lot of this could be communicated as ‘assume employee who is changing in the locker room is off the clock.’

  6. Smithy*

    Just here to champion the points about changing policy for all staff using the club as a benefit and not just benefitting those in the LBGTQIA+ space.

    The lines between being a professional – even in a space with unsexualized nudity – and a consumer, which is intended as an employee perk, has the potential to bring up issues for many staff for many reasons. It may be related to sexuality or gender expression, but it could also be tied to weight, age, ability, past traumas, the list goes on. Giving staff the ability to use the facilities as customers with a level of privacy and anonymity in the changing room similar to other guests makes that perk a genuine perk to more employees.

    So while this is a policy the OP can consider specifically for themselves, think of other employees seeing “if I use our facilities my colleagues could also chat with me in my undies.” And how many people might use them less or with greater anxiety.

  7. Robert*

    I mean, it’s a locker room. Its PURPOSE is for changing clothes and showering, and that means some degree of nudity.

      1. FrogEngineer*

        I believe LW is a “her,” or at least, the other occupants of the locker room are “her.”

    1. *kalypso*

      Yes, it is. Did you read the whole letter? Because this is a very scary thing that can provide other employees with ammunition for discriminatory harassment.

      I sure as f wouldn’t want to be in a space where my coworkers could see me naked and then use that knowledge (that my body doesn’t match my gender presentation when dressed, that I have disabilities people normally don’t see) against me if they don’t like my work, and we aren’t taught how to navigate that because it’s a minority experience that a lot of people don’t ever consider as anything but an opportunity for bonding, even in cultures where bathing naked is a recognised and significant social practice (e.g. saunas in Finland, hot springs and public baths in Japan). In this case LW is genuinely worried that as some of their coworkers have already displayed hostility and openly threatened them because of who they are, having to be naked around them may actively and negatively impact their safety in the workplace; this is a fear which is justified and based in reality and is the nightmare of anyone who hated high school locker rooms for reasons. It’s not even about ‘how to tell people I’m not working when I’m in the locker room’ because generally people who are working in a locker room wear clothes and are there to only perform a specific task and leave when they’re done, and usually people in locker rooms at gyms you only see in passing at the gym, not turn around and have to work with them. It’s basically being a minority in high school gym class, wondering if your clothes will be there after dodgeball or if that snickering is aimed at someone else, and being paid isn’t enough to make it okay.

  8. AngelS.*

    That applies to bathrooms and break rooms too. HR, accounting, and other more admin staff often get approached with questions or requests while washing their hands, heating up their lunch, having a conversation with someone, etc. Policies or no policies, it’s often up to us to establish boundaries.

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Yeah, anyone you run into by chance, who you’d have to make an effort to reach out to in the course of your day’s work, is likely to get work questions in that situation.
      For those of us with a huge fear of interrupting someone, or for whom “reaching out” is not easy (introverts and the lower downs), it’s like a golden opportunity to get your word in. You know you’re not interrupting, and if they’re washing their hands, well, they have just relieved themselves and let’s face it, we feel good just after relieving ourselves. So it’s a pretty good time to talk. I used to waylay my boss as he came back from the loo as a strategy, because it was a moment when he was more likely to be amenable.
      So of course it’s difficult for the person washing their hands, they are off duty and don’t want to have to try to remember who you are and why you have a problem. So it’s best to be able to smoothly say “Yeah, maybe you could come up to the office after lunch so I can pull your file up on the screen, because I need to make sure it’s all been filled in properly before okaying that.”

  9. Era*

    If there’s people you have a good rapport with, either your fellow managers or maybe your team members, it might be worth bouncing your concerns off them, too — even if they don’t directly manage the locker room attendants, they may have similar experiences with people interacting with them as a manager/interacting with a manager while they’re underclothed and be able to guide you & mention if there’s anything they would appreciate from a manager in the circumstances or may blink at you because they don’t think it’s an issue at all, which would also be good information!

    It sounds like you’re being thoughtful and respectful about it, though, and my instinct is that you should maintain boundaries you find comfortable and try to assume that your team members will do the same — like, I wouldn’t worry that the person that started talking to you while you were changing was uncomfortable because they introduced it, but then and when you were asked to do something in a towel it’d be fine to say “hang on a second, let me finish changing[/showering before I get to you” if you’d rather.

  10. The Person from the Resume*

    Another team member also found me when I was walking to the showers in just a towel and asked me to help her fix a piece of equipment … in just my towel.

    I’m not sure if you’re hourly or not, but in this moment or one similar, I recommend saying
    – “I’m not working yet. Please ask someone else for help.”
    – “I’m not on the clock right now. Please ask someone else for help.”
    – “I’m not on duty right now. Please ask someone else for help.”

    Or if it makes sense, you’ll help after you’re dressed and ready to work. But, really, that employee was very much out of line as you were very clearly busy with something else and they were clearly interupting you.

    I think a policy could be helpful especially since employees get complimentary membership and other employees might also be bothered while taking advantage of the perk which is actually a vaulable benefit since you don’t have to pay for another gym club membership.

    1. Paulina*

      Yes. A perk that you’re expected to drop and shift back into work-mode at any time isn’t much of a perk.

  11. Sharpie*

    I am honestly confused… American ideas of nudity are so different from European ideas that how do you people not have individual changing cubicles as standard in gyms and the like? Or am I missing something here?

    Please can someone explain to this very confused Brit.

    1. Quill*

      Not having any individual spaces and having tiny lockers to shove your stuff into is the cheapest way to design a locker room.

    2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      I’m a Brit and all my gyms (since ~1990) have all had only communal changing and shower rooms.
      (but I’m cheap – maybe upscale facilities have more privacy)

      1. Craig*

        I’ve lost count of the number of gyms, swimming pools and sports clubs I’ve used in the UK, and over 30 years I think only two have not been open plan with communal showers.

    3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      There are lots of really big gyms in the US with a capacity of 500-1000 patrons at a time.

      They’ll often have a couple of individual cubicles in their locker rooms, but having to install 100+ of them, to handle peak demand, would push the real estate footprint quite a bit.

    4. Warrior Princess Xena*

      From my experience the setup most places have is a big locker area where public nudity is basically expected and stalls for people with religious restrictions or who are just generally uncomfortable. The only place I’ve been to where that wasn’t standard was my high school gym and even then kids were encouraged to use the shower stalls if they didn’t feel comfortable changing in the public locker.

    5. ThatGirl*

      It really varies by gym/spa/sauna, but a lot of locker rooms do not have dedicated private changing spaces. There are often toilet stalls, and sometimes showers have a space for changing. But in most cases, people do casually change in a more open locker area.

    6. cardigarden*

      A lot of locker rooms here don’t have private changing stations other than the toilet stall. It’s just a large room of lockers and some benches and you have to change in the open.

    7. CityMouse*

      Open locker rooms and casual attitudes towards locker room nudity are pretty normal in the US as well. I will say I have generally lived in larger cities in the US so it could be different in different areas.

    8. FashionablyEvil*

      Some gyms have cubicles (more common in newer facilities, I’d say), but certainly not all. Many locker rooms are open, although the banks of lockers do tend to divide the space so there are alcoves of sorts.

    9. Jen RO*

      Also confused – for some reason, I imagined that American high school movies were just fiction and high schoolers don’t *really* get naked around each other in the shower…

      That said, whenever I had to change in a shared locker room, I just did it as fast as I could, with my back to the room if I had to change my bra. It only took me 2 or 3 minutes and I was back in regular clothes. I don’t know how I’d handle having to shower with other people… I would probably time my workouts so I could drive straight home and shower there!

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        “I imagined that American high school movies were just fiction and high schoolers don’t *really* get naked around each other in the shower…”

        So that is fiction in I’d say in most US schools, although I don’t know there’s any real data on that issue. We had showers in high school but no one used them. Maybe some of the sports teams? But yeah, no showers after gym, and pretty much everyone just went home to shower after sports.

        1. CityMouse*

          Oh, weird I had swimteam BEFORE school in high school so we always showered. The chlorine would destroy your hair if you didn’t.

          1. Gatomon*

            Our swim team met before school started too and they did use the showers, but no one did after standard gym classes. We only had 3-5 minutes to change either side of passing time, so even if you wanted to shower, there wasn’t time.

            I guess it’s possible the football or wrestling teams, etc. used the showers after their practices after school, but I’m guessing they just went home too.

            1. Rainy*

              We were required to shower after gym. It was literally part of your grade, to the point that the gym teacher stood at the entrance to the showers with a clipboard and checked you off. There were individual showers if you were menstruating, and if you used those “too often” you got pulled in for a conference.

              People mostly took off their gym clothes, wrapped the tiny gym towel about themselves as much as possible, scampered in, splashed water on themselves, and scampered back out again. Sometimes if you’d gotten really sweaty you’d actually rinse. If it was a non-sweaty gym day a lot of times people would keep all their underthings on under the towel, get their limbs wet without removing the towel, and then run back out to dress.

              This was late 80s in the US.

              1. Random Bystander*

                Late 70s in the US–my experience was junior high, and it was horrific. Rumor was that the gym teacher actually enjoying it, because she’d require you to open the towel when you got out to be checked off, I guess to make sure no one did the “keep bra and underwear on under the towel” dodge. No matter what anyone’s sexuality is, I think there’s universal agreement that forcing 12-14 years olds to expose their naked bodies to an adult in authority over them is not ok. But that was the way it was then.

                Reality was that there were six shower heads, and everyone just went through a path in the middle, so you didn’t really get wet above the ankles. At least, we were able to get out of it entirely if on our period, and no matter what reality was, my period lasted for a full calendar week (not really, but at least I didn’t have to “prove it”–I’m sure I was far from the only one who fibbed like that). We each had an individual locker (had to supply our own combination lock) where clothes/gym clothes were kept, but those things were tiny enough that some people had trouble with shoes fitting inside.

                I never really saw the point anyhow–unlike a real shower, there was no soap and/or shampoo involved, just the water.

              2. Fluffy Fish*

                Good point about era – my experience was in the 90’s and my daughter attended the same school in the 2010s. I think maybe it *was* common – hence the schools were built with the showers, but I think it’s become a thing of the past.

              3. Gray Lady*

                This was my experience in the late 70s/early 80s, but by the time my kids were in high school from the mid-2000s through the 10s, it was “nobody showers after gym, mom.”

          2. Fluffy Fish*

            I think swim teams are coming in as a big exception, which makes total sense. We didnt have a swim team nor a pool. That’s interesting though because thinking back to how I was in high school, I would have showered in my swimsuit I think. Both for modesty and to rinse out the suit as well.

            There are a few schools in the county with swim teams but practice is after school because the very few pools are a shared resource.

            1. Just Another Cog in the Machine*

              I swam on the swim team for 12 years, and we always showered with our suits on, with a couple exceptions. As an adult at the Y, I wash my hair/suit and then finish showering with the suit off. But the Y has curtains around each shower, so I am not exposed.

        2. Quill*

          Yeah, standard when I was in high school was keep your suit on while in the shower, (for swim) go change under a beach towel in front of your locker.

      2. CityMouse*

        Nope, my US school had large communal showers, particularly by the pool. Think a big room with poles out of the floor with like four shower heads per pole. There were individual shower stalls available, but you’d have to wait so after swimteam most people used the general showers.

        1. MsSolo (UK)*

          One thing we had with swimming (both when I was at school and now I take my daughter for swimming lessons at the local university) was that everyone just showered in their swimsuits. General consensus was the shower was to get the worst of the chlorine off, maybe shampooing your hair if you were precious about it, rather than serious personal hygiene.

          I do think generally over here it’s more common to have a unisex space with stalls than single sex spaces without. It probably does reduce the number of users overall, but it’s not massively inefficient (as long as people don’t leave their stuff in the stalls when they’re not in the changing room!) because you’re using the centre of the space for cubicles as well as the walls in a larger room.

      3. The Person from the Resume*

        My informtion is 30+ years old because I am old. My high school locker room looked like a “normal” locker. No changing stalls. Shower stalls.

        This applies only to girls, but our “solution” was no one showered after gym. That was just how gym class was, and the teacher didn’t seem to give time for showers after gym. There were showers that I don’t think anyone ever used. We had unfirom skirts so you pulled the shorts on under your skirt and took the skirt off. Took off your shirt, but not your bra and put the gym shirt on. I guess we didn’t get THAT sweaty. {shrug} It was in the south so I don’t know how.

        And for after school sports, we just went home sweaty and dirty and showered there.

      4. Frog&Toad*

        Way back in time (probably in the late 1940s/early 1950s), my FIL’s high school had swim class without swimisuits – as in they all swam naked! This was at an all boy’s school in Chicago. I asked him WHY – and he thought so there wasn’t a cost for towels and swimsuits. Yikes on bikes!

      5. Fastest Thumb in the West*

        In middle school we were required to take a communal shower, naked, after every gym class. The teacher stood there and watched. It was as awful as it sounds. I moved to a different state for high school and there was a communal shower in the locker room, but no one used it and it certainly wasn’t required.

      6. doreen*

        It was kinda fiction in my high school , too – even though we had a pool and used the shower after swimming class. Because it wasn’t a giant room with 20 or 30 shower heads like you see in the movies – there were 30 or 40 individual showers, each with its own private changing room.

      7. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        My Uk girls grammar school had communal changing room and shower room. Showering naked was compulsory after swimming or PE and we had to use shampoo & soap. Sport without showering before lessons or going home seems v unhygenic, imo.
        That was 1960s-early 1970s though – may be different in today’s schools.

        Despite being teens, noone seemed embarassed, probably because it was a normal part of the week’s routine.
        Also in those days there were literally only 1 or 2 overweight girls in the entire school of 500, so maybe one reason why we hadn’t learned to be ashamed of our bodies.

        (A girl was only excused swimming or showering during her period – but this required a note from their parent if it happened > ~1 week per month)

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, so did the comprehensive I attended in the UK for a year when I was 12-13. The showers were communal with just shower heads sticking out of the wall, you couldn’t even adjust the temperature, and it was always cold… I didn’t have any issues about being naked in public at the time, I developed those as an obese adult.

      8. Michelle Smith*

        We didn’t have showers, but yes, you changed in front of everyone else unless you went in a toilet stall.

      9. sparkle emoji*

        I went to 2 US high schools and 1 jr high and all were a little different with locker rooms.
        Commonalities: no one showered regularly or got fully naked. It had been decades since the showers had been used except for the pool showers at each school.
        Differences: 2 had shower stalls that were only used to change in behind curtain. One had a communal shower with maybe 6 shower heads? Only was used to rinse off after pool with a swimsuit on. 2 schools had a gym uniform that was required for points. One had no uniform and wanted you to wear the same clothes you had on during the day.
        Basically, everything besides the lack of showering is variable with US school locker rooms.

    10. mlem*

      Locker rooms are generally considered an exception to our usual pearl-clutching about nudity. It probably has to do with their specificity of purpose, intersecting with the expense of building individual changing stalls.

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        Also, gym culture in the US was (and still is in some ways) often single-sex.

    11. Ellis Bell*

      My super posh British gym had a big open space for changing. All of the showers had cubicles with curtains but the changing area was just freestanding hooks on benches, with lockers around the walls. There were some changing cubicles in the corners, but somehow this made nudity into a bigger deal because everyone is standing around in underwear/towel/naked and you’re ducking away like you couldn’t possibly. It was really nice actually, with little dressing room tables and real hairdryers. When you remove cubicles you make room for other stuff.

    12. Lola*

      Every gym I’ve been a member of, even fancy ones, has at least a couple of private changing stalls, but mostly lockers. Showers, however, have all been private stalls. I haven’t seen a communal shower area since my high school years.

    13. Vio*

      I’m in the UK and my gym doesn’t have individual changing cubicles, I really wish it did! Due to CPTSD I have to use the disabled toilet to change at the gym and I always feel bad about doing it despite having permission to do so (I have no *visible* disability).

  12. Warrior Princess Xena*

    As a fellow person who doesn’t like chatting while changing, stalls are the way to go. A lot of places have stalls for this exact reason and those that don’t have shower stalls.

    I’m sorry about your former coworker being an ass. I really hope that your management has your back and your colleagues turn out to on the whole be supportive allies!

  13. Jess*

    I’m an older lesbian gym rat. I change in the stall and keep my eyes down in shared spaces. I have no interest other gymgoers nudity, and if they are comfortable with their bodies i have no intention of causing any harm to that personal freedom. I am no so free lol

    I didn’t know this is considered prudish. Live an learn.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      You should continue doing whatever makes you feel the most comfortable and keeps you safe, regardless of whether some people find it prudish.

    2. Lana Kane*

      Yeah, I’m not cool with thinking it’s prudish. Everyone has their own comfort level with showing their body and that should just be accepted. I’m not a prude, but in terms of being naked in front of strangers, I’d rather not.

      1. Lana Kane*

        (And I want to recognize that Alison phrased it as “some may feel prudish using a stall”, not that it’s prudish. But the fact that some people feel that way implies that it’s out there. I’ve encountered it before with offhand comments I’ve heard some people make.)

  14. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

    Your HR should so much want to have policies around this issue to protect the company.

  15. I should really pick a name*

    I think your employee is modelling how they want you to treat the situation.
    They’re in a change room changing, and not making a big deal about it.

    If they weren’t comfortable with you seeing their body, they wouldn’t get naked in front of you.

    Since you’re the one with the power in the situation, I would let your employees take the lead. Don’t approach them while they’re undressed, but if they approach you while they’re undressed, it’s no problem because they’ve opted in.

  16. Poison I.V. drip*

    This perk doesn’t sound like it’s worth the stress it’s causing the LW. They should just suck it up and find a gym someplace else.

    1. mreasy*

      Gyms are expensive, especially nice ones! If this is a perk of the job, there should be a way to make it more comfortable for staff. OP is almost certainly not the only person who doesn’t like to be approached while changing or while the other person is nude.

    2. The Letter Writer*

      Being told to “suck it up” and “find a gym someplace else,” isn’t the answer. I’m sick of LGBTQIA+ people being told they’re not welcome in certain spaces, especially places of work.

      And, not that it’s even relevant here, but I do have a secondary gym membership that I utilize when I’m not at my place of work.

      1. 123*

        I don’t understand the relevance.

        OP isn’t being told they’re not welcome. In fact, the exact opposite is happening. The employees are so accepting of OP that they have no problem dropping their shorts. OP cited one incident of homophobia that doesn’t appear to be related to the locker room at all.

        If “suck it up” means, “Just use the facility like any other human being,” then I don’t understand how that is a bad answer.

        1. JM60*

          The person you’re replying to said they’re the OP (in another comment).

          The comment they’re replying to said they should “just suck it up and find a gym someplace else.” So by “suck it up”, they meant, “don’t use this perk that they’re employer offered them.”

        2. Caramel & Cheddar*

          Because Poison I.V. drip said “suck it up *and* find a gym someplace else” (emphasis mine), not “suck it up OR find a gym someplace else.” They’re telling LW that if it bothers them, they can leave.

        3. *kalypso*

          Yes, being expected to deal with being harassed based on one’s orientation at work by leaving work is exactly what a clueless straight person would say here.

          It is a bad answer because it expects the minority to handle the issue entirely on their own without anyone having to change to be decent inclusive human people while the oppressors continue in their mentally cis-straight-only zone and continue to make it unwelcoming and unsafe for others.

          Then again, the idea that you may not want to make yourself more vulnerable in a space where your body and what you do with it is actively policed by people whose business that isn’t may not occur to people who don’t have to constantly remind everyone they’re people in the first place.

        4. Ellis Bell*

          OP explained really well why the incident of homophobia has given them pause. It’s fine for us to sit back and say “Oh your colleagues are being so nice and accepting, there’s no reason to worry!” But OP is not imagining it when they fear that people change their tone from “hey boss how bout that work thing” to a volley of slurs when something negative goes down. It literally has already happened. Also, OP shouldn’t be totally reliant on whether their staff are cool with their sexuality. Straight people aren’t. What about future team members they haven’t met yet? What can they actually do to prepare and protect themselves if someone is a jerk?

        5. smdh*

          wow

          Read the news. Homophobia is getting worse in the US. Our protections are being taken away. It’s so invalidating to tell people they shouldn’t be worried when lived experience and the political situation says otherwise

    3. learnedthehardway*

      Disagreeing – the LW should be able to use the perks of their job. While the perk is not monetary on the part of the employer, it IS part of the LW’s compensation package, and does have a monetary value. Strictly speaking, she may even be paying taxes on it, if it is being accounted for as having monetary value.

      In any event, the LW should be able to enjoy the perk, without being concerned that using it will make her a target for anti-LGBTQ harassment. She sounds like she is personally very respectful of other patrons and employees, in their use of the facilities. The same courtesy should be extended to her.

    4. Vio*

      I don’t believe there are any circumstances where “suck it up” is good advice unless we’re talking about vacuum cleaning.

    5. chocolate muffins*

      The problem is not really the stress itself, as far as I understand it anyway. The problem is more the factors that are causing that stress – people’s behaviors and the social structures that make this situation so fraught for queer people in particular. The solution to that problem is not for the people who are harmed by it to go away. The solution is for the problematic factors to change.

      I don’t think that you personally will agree with this and I don’t have it in my right now to write the kind of thoughtful thing that might change your mind, but I wanted to put this here for others who may be scrolling. This type of framing has made me feel seen with regard to other kinds of issues so maybe seeing people say these words here will have the same effect on someone else.

  17. Presea*

    You mention in your letter that you can’t really know what any of your staff are thinking and feeling, and this is true – that also means that you can’t always know if someone is themselves same-gender attracted, questioning, is trans and closeted/stealth, has some other personal history with homophobic violence and harassment, etc. Just another angle to consider here. Any actions you take here could ripple out further than you know.

    1. *kalypso*

      Yeah, I’m fairly sure that we know we’re not the only LGBTQIA+ people in the world and don’t generally need that explained to us.

  18. Fluffy Fish*

    OP – Years ago I took to packing a short robe in my gym bag. I found it a little easier to navigate getting changed without trying to hold up a towel. I also swapped my full towel for a smaller one to save space.

    Years later and I’m 100% indifferent to nudity, both my own and others, it the locker room. I agree with Alison that’s likely where you’re employees are at – and you may get to at some point too. But it’s okay if you don’t.

    As to the rest of it – every gym I’ve belonged to has had some kind of stall separate from a toilet stall where people can get dressed in privacy. One place they were exactly like toilet stalls just sans toile and my current place is more like curtained cubby. You don’t need a lot – people don’t spend much time in them and the majority of people don’t use them.

    What about advocating for spaces like that in the locker rooms?

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      Oh and I’m so very sorry you had that experience with an employee. I should have led with that.
      No one should ever feel unsafe at work – and certainly not for who they are.

    2. *kalypso*

      That’s a great idea although for a large chain that does the ‘same everywhere’ decor/layout/facilities it may be a huge undertaking; definitely one to run up the chain, and for more of them even if they do have them already, simpley because if there’s one of them some people (especially in men’s rooms where people are also engineered to pee in front of each other) will notice if someone uses the cubicle and will refrain if they think it will make them stand out or make people think they’re weird for using it while everyone else doesn’t (although nobody really wants to change/pee in public if they don’t have to or they’re drunk and have no boundaries which isn’t necessarily a thing here), but if there’s a lot of them using them feels more expected and normalised and is less likely to generate ‘they must be using it because they have something to hide’ or ‘everyone will see me using the cubicle and think i’m weird and talk about me’ reactions and the fear of drawing those reactions.

      It’s also helpful if they’re a little larger than toilet stalls for accessibility and comfort reasons, and doors are better than curtains because curtains, especially those in wet areas, can sometimes end up still being revealing.

      It isn’t an immediate fix though, nor is it likely to solve the workplace issue of how employees can feel safe from being targeted because of their gender or orientation when part of the environment is reminiscent of the location of a lot of high school gender/orientation-placed bullying. That needs to be something that the LW perhaps deals with with the assistance of a therapist in the individual instance, and is already dealing with on the institutional level according to their comments, the only flaw being that the employer doesn’t provide an EAP (that LW feels this situation justifies them accessing, in any case) or clear structure for reporting issues that happen to or within management.

  19. Silence Will Fall*

    I worked in a live theatre and one of the perks was the ability to attend performances. We had a lot of employees who were new to the work world/used to environments where there was a lot of blur between work/personal relationships. We developed a policy that if you were there as a patron, you were there as a patron. Staff weren’t to approach patrons about work-related items and patrons weren’t allowed to access staff-only spaces. It helped everyone to officially have that boundary line drawn. When the policy was put in place, more senior staff/managers, modeled that expectation by gently redirecting people. There was some griping in the beginning, but overall it made everyone’s experience better.

  20. mlem*

    I have many questions sparked by the team member who asked for help with equipment.

    What would the staffer have done if they hadn’t encountered the towel-wrapped LW? Struggle with the equipment, defer the task, manage it alone but with more risk/annoyance, call the LW, rope in an on-the-clock coworker, other? If there’s a clear alternative, the staff should be directed to treat coworkers-using-the-facilities as clients rather than as coworkers.

    Unless … does corporate strongly encourage use of the facilities by staff *because* they expect staff to pitch in when otherwise off the clock? That would certainly complicate such a policy, particularly for exempt staff.

    1. The Letter Writer*

      Hi! Yes, a huge reason our company encourages personal club use is so we’ll see everything from the members’ perspective. A machine sounds squeaky? Maybe you’ll notice and put in a maintenance ticket when you’re between sets. The hot tub is cold? Maybe you’ll feel it and tell the front desk on your way out. A lot of our team members are also former members who’ve gotten jobs here because they’re absolutely obsessed with the club, so I’ll sometimes get text messages that say, “I stopped in for a cycling class and realized the bikes were a little dirty, mind if I clock in for a bit to wipes those down?” so, the lines are definitely a little blurred when it comes to work/play here.

      1. *kalypso*

        Yeah, you’ll need to start enforcing those lines. Is it possible to maybe get those texts sent to a duty phone instead of your phone, so whoever’s most senior but on duty can get those and action them straight away? It might help reinforce the on/off if you can do that and aren’t going ‘I’m naked so don’t talk about work’/’I’m dressed now ok to do quick management stuff’. If you’re the only one who can approve people taking on ad hoc hours that might be something that needs to change too – either those requests get assigned to a floater or someone who is on, or approving hours for task-based extras like that can be delegated, again, to the most senior but on duty.

        I feel like the naked in the locker room aspect of all this is more of a reaction to that specific situation with your coworker that’s been a bit of a kickstarter for ‘oh hey I don’t have a good line here so I don’t feel safe’ and that therefore reinforcing that line will help with that more than any policy changes or crystallising of social etiquette (some people are raised to not see nakedness as an issue, or find social bonding in gyms/saunas/baths totally normal, so you’re not going to arrive at a policy that’s culturally inclusive and does what you need it to, nor do I think you need to). I saw your other comment where you say you’re the one people come to for LGBTQIA+ issues and how if you don’t have the answer, who are you meant to ask, and I just want to remind you that you don’t have to have the answer or ask for one – it’s okay for this to be a little messy and to instead address each component here separately. Your workplace seems to already have a strong inclusion policy and a mostly supportive culture (otherwise dude would have lashed out earlier instead of when he was already fired and consequences didn’t matter any more, yeah?) so leaning on that and refining it in relation to specific incidents if needed – here it seems that all that could be done was, so if you need to fix something, look at your firing process and whether that can be made to include two people so nobody’s alone in case of lashing out, or having security close by or whether the process can be made clearer earlier on unless it’s serious and wilful misconduct warranting immediate dismissal, although a warning process doesn’t always end up better because some people hold on to ‘if i improve’ and not ‘if i don’t’ – and delineating work vs not work may well be enough, especially once you’re a bit more distant from that trauma (yes, being threatened is a trauma, doesn’t have to be a big one) and you’ve had more time to process and recalibrate to your workspace after that.

      2. Paulina*

        Those examples seem to be more about getting feedback and off-the-clock staff taking small bits of initiative than the more extreme situation you were faced with (being asked to help out while you were clearly off the clock, in “patron” mode, noticeably so due to your state of dress). I hope you’re in a position to make those lines a little less blurry, so that while everyone is able to use their member experience to provide useful input and improve things, you and the people you manage aren’t being treated as backup staff who can be drafted to help without notice if you’re there off-shift.

  21. HonorBox*

    LW, I’m sorry about the a-hole who said and did such nasty things to you on their way out. That sucks, and HR should definitely know.

    I think the idea of a policy that highlights the fact that employees are able to use the facility and should enjoy the same freedom, privacy and respect as paying members is a good one.

    Also, if you’re managing a team, there’s nothing that says you can’t just say something to them, too. Something like, “Hey, I’d like to maintain the illusion that when we’re here using the facility like paying members, we don’t work here. With that, unless it is an emergency, please hold off on asking questions until I’m back at my desk and I’ll do the same for you.”

  22. Cake or Death*

    “You said you’re not in a position to create any locker room policies for your team … and I want to push back on that. You manage the locker room staff, so you should have standing to do that.”

    I think OP meant they don’t have authority to create policies. As in, policies are created by higherups in corporate, for example.

    1. ecnaseener*

      They may not have authority to create a formalized written policy, but as a manager they absolutely have the authority to say “here’s how our team will do things.”

  23. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    It’s fine to have different rules for employees interacting with clients vs with coworkers.

    Also, some of the OP’s examples involve employees bringing work matters into her private, off-duty time. That’s NOK, just like if they were interrupting her lunch break.

    So she could also add a team guideline that employees should be considerate and not interrupt each others’ breaks, or her breaks, unless it is an emergency. Specifically include lunch break, changing rooms, spas, gym as examples where work convos should not intrude on private time or space.

  24. FrogEngineer*

    good golly Miss Molly

    I use the locker room at my job and I cannot imagine starting a conversation with a naked coworker. Everyone I work with seems to just ignore the existence of anyone else while changing.

    1. Meep*

      I have been on camping trips and had coworkers sleepover. I have seen them in their undies and PJs. Never would I ever think this appropriate. Setting is important.

  25. The Letter Writer*

    Hi everyone! I wrote today’s letter and I wanted to answer a couple of questions.

    1. I’ve noticed a few comments inquiring about how my manager handled my ex employee’s homophobic outburst. He—a cis, straight, white man—was appalled. He empathized, apologized and immediately banned the homophobic team member from all of our 160+ locations. What’s unique about this situation is that I’m actually one of our club’s two “Inclusion Council Ambassadors,” meaning LGBTQIA+ issues of this magnitude typically get escalated to me to handle. Sometimes, when you’re the person who always has the answer, it’s hard to look around and ask, “Wait, but who do I talk to if I need help?”

    2. I’m not in a position to change company-wide locker room policies (we’re a huge company), but I can adjust individual club rules. Telling team members to leave other team members alone while they’re working out, sitting in the hot tub, etc. is definitely doable—and something I do try to enforce with non-exempt workers. I think, because I’m one of the club’s leaders, team members just think my time is more accessible than other people’s, so that’s an expectation I’ll have to set.

    1. Madame X*

      Great to hear that your manager was so supportive in a clear and concrete way! I agree that updating the club rules is a great way to support Al of your employees, both exempt and non-exempt.

    2. Paulina*

      Maybe you can thnk of this as modeling good behaviour — if you redirect your employees when they ask you for non-emergency help when you’re off shift, then they in turn will know that they can do this themselves. Alternatively, if you’re pitching in even when towel-clad, others may expect that they’re supposed to do that too, making the policies harder to enforce.

    3. Angstrom*

      Do you and your team have work uniforms? If so, “Not in uniform = not working” might be a reasonable guideline.
      I’m assuming that if you *are* working in the locker room, you are dressed for work.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        This is exactly my idea. “If I’m not wearing my …blazer with flair… I’m temporarily not here.”

        This also helps provide phrase to use for a true 911-worthy emergency: “Sorry to interrupt but could you put your blazer on?”

    4. Bird Caller*

      OP, a suggestion for keeping the nudity minimized is to throw in a cotton sundress or even a long tank top. I swim at my gym and while I am not uncomfortable being nude, i need time between the after-swim shower and getting fully dressed because I lack the ability to wrangle on a bra when my skin is damp. My solution is to wear a soft cotton sundress while I am in the locker room. It gives me time to straighten my hair out, go to the bathroom, put pants on etc while not having to awkwardly hold a towel in place.

  26. Meep*

    God, I cannot imagine expecting my boss to fix a piece of equipment in their towel even if we were both at the same nudest resort. You are clearly in the middle of something! LGBTQA+ issues aside, they are being a little tone deaf so I agree with Alison. It is no different than expecting your coworker to bag groceries off the clock. If you are off the clock, you don’t work.

  27. Alex*

    I, a member of the LGBTQA+ community, also work at an upscale gym at which membership is a perk of employment, and have a similar problem, although I am not a manager.

    I haven’t come up with any awesome solutions, except that I did purchase one of those towel wraps that kind of turns into a strapless dress sort of thing, that I bring with me to go into the steam room and sauna. It is knee length and covers me pretty well. My club also has changing rooms that members can use for more privacy, and I use those. So I’m never actually naked in the locker room except for the brief moment I remove my towel to step into the shower, and I just try to look around me before I do that.

    Also I just want to put out there that I think it is odd–gay, straight, employee or not–to start conversations while totally naked! I just…why? WHY? I don’t want to talk while naked. But I guess that’s just me! Lol.

  28. Craig*

    Alison’s advice is the one to follow here. Speaking as a gay man I would not take the other advice offered.

    Making policies, enlisting allies etc is just making an issue and drawing attention to a problem that might not even exist. If you have trusted colleagues already you can call on them to support you if a problem ever occurs. Allies, as well meaning as they are, often get involved (without your knowledge) and can make things more awkward.

    I’ve been out at work since 1994 (a very different time) and I’ve worked is several countries and never once had a problem. I’ve played soccer and other sports with male colleagues, shared communal showers and locker rooms throughout the last 30 years, sure you feel awkward at first but that goes over time.

    Just act natural, same as everyone else. Everyone, gay or straight, feels slightly awkward in locker rooms and naturally more so with work colleagues.

    That’s a long way of saying don’t make it a thing with everyone. Staff change all the time and you’ll just have to repeat the conversations. Just deal with a situation if one ever happens.

    1. Three Dollar Bill*

      I’m a gay woman, not out at my current workplace, and chiming in to agree. It sounds like LW is out at work, so that might change the equation for their situation, but I would try to avoid all of that. Personally, I would rather pull off my own fingernails than have a huge round table with everyone I work with (both in my current workplace and workplaces where I have been out) about a homophobic tirade I’d been subjected to. Omg. I think I’d have to wonder out loud whether I was in the Bad Place. That said, I can see the value of having a locker room buddy who could affirm anything that happened/didn’t happen in the locker room if someone accused LW of something they didn’t do. I’m not sure how feasible that would be in practice, but I can see the value in the idea.

      For a locker room that was part of my workplace, I, personally, would take the approach Jess mentioned she takes to locker rooms in general in another comment: change in the stall and keep my eyes down in shared spaces. I’d probably try to be in and out fairly quickly in the shared spaces too. If I ever found myself in another locker room that wasn’t part of my workplace, I’d use the locker room the way I normally do. Should anyone have to do that? Of course not; the worry shouldn’t be there in the first place, but it is, and that’s the point of the letter. I’m not suggesting that anyone else has to take this approach, but if you’re looking for different opinions from LGBTQ+ people, that’s mine.

  29. 123*

    After 20 years in the Army, it would be easier for me to make a list of co-workers I *haven’t* seen in the showers.

    You go in, you do your business, and then you get on with your life. I can tell you with great certainty I have been in many locker rooms with LGB people, and their orientation is completely irrelevant because nobody is in there looking for a date. I can guarantee you the other people in the locker room just want to get out of there as fast as possible.

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      yes this is my experience. I worked in a ski resort where employees were given one large locker room to change in. We got used to being in our undies all together. No one looked. No one snickered. No one found their romantic partner here.

    2. Not my coffee*

      I’ve done team sports and have seen my share of nakedness. All I can say is it’s a mind set.

      I’ve known several people through the years who can’t get past the idea that one or more people (“lookers”) might have an unpleasant thought about their bodies’ but (the “lookers”) won’t say anything out loud. They usually have no military service nor have they done team sports where changing together takes place. For them, the problem is the bad thought might exist in first place. So to avoid that, no nudity.

      Not really a question, just wanted to respond to your observation with an observation of my own.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        Eh, I’m quite a modest user of shared dressing areas and would rather use a stall; it’s not really about an idea, or a concept you have about others, it’s simply a feeling of discomfort. I like my body, and don’t really expect it to be very interesting to others, nevertheless nudity amongst strangers and acquaintances remains almost as weird a feeling as those dreams everyone has had at least once. I’d say you have a point that it’s linked to a lack of solid experience of doing it. Being naked in what’s essentially a public space isn’t something some of us are not at all used to doing. It feels weird… and you can go through the motions of it not being a big deal and it still feels weird, unless you’ve got serious time to spend on getting inured to it.

        1. Ginger Baker*

          It’s so interesting to me that you mention “those dreams everyone has at least once” because…I have not. Many MANY dreams about my teeth crumbling and/or falling out, and about elevators, but none about being naked (accidentally or otherwise)! I chalk this up to the fact that I grew up in a family where nudity just wasn’t a big deal and while I’m not always super comfy being naked in a locker room these days, that’s mostly because I know other people have very different takes on nudity than I do I think and at the end of the day I’m pretty much “eh, bodies, whatever” (and as you might guess, body comfort was a win family-wise, but teeth problems were a definite FAIL and frequent experience…and nightmare fuel lol!)

      2. Road Trippin'*

        It’s not simply a mindset. Lots of people are not comfortable with that vulnerability, for a million different reasons, which might include past trauma or abuse. To minimize other people’s discomfort to “you just have the wrong mindset” is wrong.
        Just because it’s all about mindset *to you* does not mean it’s all about mind set for everyone.
        You and your viewpoints are not the standard. What works for you isn’t the standard solution that works for all. Please make some effort to understand that and have respect for others who are not you.

      3. E. Chauvelin*

        It’s a bit of a matter of setting, too. I did community theatre as a teenager/college student where there was one women’s dressing room and one men’s and we all went in there and changed and minded our own business doing it (assuming we weren’t doing quick changes in the wings, minding our own business in a co-ed environment). My gym has four changing stalls in the women’s locker room and, although it’s been a long time since I’ve hit a busy enough moment that they were all full, when I did, people queued up for the stalls. I’d only change in the open area there if I were in an urgent hurry and there was a queue. For me the presence of stalls suggests that the stalls are to be used, and when in Rome, etc. I don’t typically see other people changing outside of the stalls there, either.

    3. different seudonym*

      I get what you’re saying, but…the point is that OP is in a position of power, and subordinates can use homophobia as a trump card. And it’s not theoretical; someone already has. And in general bathrooms are often places where moral panic about sexuality takes place; I personally have had straight women yelp (literally yelp!) and run out of a ladies’ room twice, and one yelled “I think it’s a man” once. Three different bathrooms, in different states, separated by years. This is a real danger, not a fake one, even though there are many similar situations where nudity isn’t a problem.

    4. Meep*

      No offense, but using an institution with high assault rates and the victims being dishonorably discharged 80% of the time is not the best example.

    5. CityMouse*

      As an openly bi woman, I’d feel a whole lot less comfortable if straight women avoided me in locker rooms.

    6. inksmith*

      My orientation is completely irrelevant until someone decides they’re uncomfortable with me being there as a visibly gay woman. And then the fact that I’m not there looking for a date or looking at their bodies doesn’t matter, because they’ve decided I’m a threat because I *might* be doing those things.

      I assume you’re straight, so maybe don’t try to explain to LGBT people why we’re being paranoid and no-one cares about our sexuality – trust me, plenty of people care, and a chunk of them are homophobes who don’t want a same-sex attracted person in a space where they’re naked.

  30. Robtx*

    The answer seems obvious to me, but then again, I’ve never been comfortable being naked either at gyms I patronized or those I was using as an employee. I’ve always changed in the stalls, and if I showered, dried off and dressed in the shower stall, which was big enough to do that.

  31. Silvering*

    Assuming they want to be a good ally, what advice would you give the straight employee who witnessed the outburst?

    1. *kalypso*

      You mean the assistant?

      Same thing as a bystander should do if one coworker is being harassed, threatened and theyr workspace destroyed by another when their irrelevant to the job personal information is unknown – call security, call someone higher up, call the police, only intervene if physically safe to do so; if physically safe to do so, say ‘that’s rude’ or ‘knock it off’ and try not to make things worse.

      They may also be traumatised from witnessing the violence so if they don’t react perfectly that’s fine. They can check in with the coworker after with ‘are you ok’ if they’re prepared to listen to an answer or provide resources to find someone who is (e.g. EAP, GP, helpline, advocacy service) but if they’re not able to have that conversation, just doing their job and treating their coworker the same as always and a ‘wow, that was really shitty of them, that really scared me too’ or other expression that they don’t agree with homophobic violence and reinforcing that it’s not meant to be the normal state of things definitely doesn’t go astray.

      All that said, you generally wouldn’t come in here and ask a straight person what advice they’d give a coworker in one of their letters, and the idea that minorities have to explain and educate 24/7 and should be expected to teach how to be a good ally while they’re just out there going ‘I’m broken rn please help’ is not helpful, and adds emotional labour and weight to the prospect of asking for the same help that straight white or otherwise majority people take for granted. There are thousands of resources on how to be an ally, how to respond to minority-focused violence as an ally, how to support people who have been targeted etc. online and they’re a lot easier to access than asking the nearest help-seeking LGBTQIA+ person to take a break from their thing to explain to you how to be a human with empathy in a way that is tailored to the assumption that since you have to ask, you may not be someone who can hear it easily and are not aware that we’re being asked various questions many times over because we exist and so it’s a burden we are disproportionately expected to take on in lieu of majority people treating everyone with baseline human compassion without conditioning it on ‘is this person part of this minority?’. There is nothing in the first few paragraphs that is conditioned on or different in any way to what someone should do if their straight coworker is being threatened, personally attacked and their workspace damaged, because there isn’t a difference in the first place beyond that which straight people have enforced over time.

        1. *kalypso*

          Even if not, that doesn’t make it okay to take space held for LW and turn it into ‘ally help time’ when there are plenty of resources already available. ‘Okay, LW, you’re done, now answer me, the person asking about the hypothetical straight ally’. no nope no. Bad enough the people mansplaining LGBTQIA+ representation and suggesting fancy towels as serious responses to fear of further violence are already here.

  32. Jamie (he/him)*

    Don’t let the homophobe ex-employee cloud your future judgement too much. The psychology behind this behaviour is… weird.

    When angry, human beings have a habit of lashing out using what they see as their opponent’s “weak point”. To express their anger and to hit you where they think it will really hurt, they attack the thing that makes you most different from “the norm” as they see it (ie, from them).

    People will launch into homophobia, antisemitism, racism, ableism, you name it. Their point is not actually to express their bigotry – it’s to put you on the defensive, to wound you, to make you second-guess yourself, to allow them to walk away feeling they’ve won something.

    It won’t even have occurred to the ex-employee that they were being homophobic. They will see it as them ‘just’ being angry. They will probably never have experienced bigotry aimed at them personally. They will probably even still see themselves as a straight ally.

    It’s not possible now, of course, to leave their nonsensical hate reaction out of your future thinking on this, but don’t let them get too deeply under your skin. Try to put them slightly to one side when it comes to future decisions, because bigots are gonna bigot and we have to rise above them.

    Not that we’ve got any f-ng choice.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I think that’s what OP is saying though: That angry employees may decide to go for their sexuality as a “weak spot”. I would see the boss’ strong reaction as reassuring, but the psychology at play from the employee was not reassuring at all.

    2. *kalypso*

      I don’t think ‘the bigot maybe didn’t mean to be hurtful when they lashed out at you specifically when they were fired so don’t let them hurt you too much’ is particularly helpful. It was hurtful and LW now feels unsafe in the workplace. That’s valid and it’s what happened. LW cannot be expected to moderate their brain chemistry because a straight person may not have deliberately meant to be cruel and couldn’t manage being professional at work, and that’s what we don’t have a choice about.

      LW needs to know they’re okay to have feelings about this and that part of that manifesting as feeling unsafe being NAKED AT WORK with these people is normal and they can choose to work on it in therapy or self-guided meditation or whatever mental health tools are available and accessible to them, and they also need to know that now the person who was fired has been banned from the entire chain in the entire country and the limits of what their former workplace can do to protect them from that person have been achieved short of police action (which is LW’s choice, not the workplace’s, and all choices in that regard are valid and allowed and that should be obvious), their workplace has a strong inclusion policy that does include them even though they can’t go to themselves to ask themself for help with it, and if there is anything that can make them safer beyond that they are within their rights to ask for it from their position as LGBTQIA+ advocate or from the position of an employee who was threatened and abused for who they are in the workplace.

      We cannot emotionally regulate on behalf of the cis-straight people who have abandoned their social responsibility to regulate for themselves and that’s normal.

      1. inksmith*

        Yes, thank you! I don’t really care if people who call me homophobic slurs have actual bigotry in their heart or just picked something they knew they could hurt me with, it still hurts.

    3. pdxer*

      Going for someone’s “weak point” on issues of sexuality if they don’t actually hold those bigoted views is actually *worse*, in my opinion. Outing someone you’re angry at, or bringing attention to their sexuality when you know it’s a vulnerability can actually get people killed, especially in our current political climate. I don’t think just telling someone to “rise above” what could turn into a very serious threat to their safety is particularly helpful in this case.

  33. Boss Scaggs*

    I don’t think you need to formally restrict communication too much – I’d hate to have something urgent or safety related go unreported because the staff is hesitant to bring it up in the moment.

    Or maybe double check that the staff knows who’s covering or who to inform in these cases so it’s not even a concern.

  34. Betsy S*

    It might not need a formal policy.

    I was in a somewhat similar position, but without the nudity – back when I ran the computer systems for a computer science department, enrolled in the MS program. I had professors , even the department chair, ask me questions about work stuff, sometimes in front of the entire class!
    My response would be along the lines of “right now I have my student hat on – Let’s follow up tomorrow morning when I have my work hat on. I want to concentrate on what you’re teaching while I’m in class”. For the locker room I guess it could be “..when I have my [work] clothes on!”

  35. Formerly Ella Vader*

    I was (a) a senior staffer in a program that included young staff in their 20s who were new to being on top of the power dynamic, and teenage program participants, around the same time that I began to (b) identify as bisexual, and make decisions about which workplaces I would come out in.

    My first realization was that if I ever did come out to either the rest of the staff or the participants, I didn’t want anyone to look back at our swimming sessions and realize that we had been naked together. So I started looking for obscure corners of the locker room to change in, while leaving all supervision questions to the junior staff until we were on the pool deck. Then I realized that I needed to alert the junior staff that they too needed to be sensitive to these questions – that some teenagers might not want their same-sex counsellors present if anyone wasn’t fully dressed, that there weren’t enough cubicles for everyone to change quickly in a cubicle so we shouldn’t insist on having a headcount on deck within a few minutes of arriving at the pool, and so on. We started giving people time to get into swimsuits in private space before walking to the pool, which halved the potential of awkward encounters. And we identified one first-aider on call in each changeroom, telling everyone that the rest of us were off duty until we were on the pool deck.

    I also realized that what I’d worked out from observation in the locker room of my declared gender might not translate exactly to customs in the other one. So I asked a couple of the other senior staff – a younger gay one and an older straight one – how things worked in their locker room and what they thought we should tell the junior staff. They more or less agreed with my ideas.

    I like Alison’s suggestion to the OP of looking to articulate a more general policy of respecting the off-duty status of anyone using facilities as a member. But I also want to acknowledge that people marginalized due to sexuality or gender identity, whether public or not, may feel significantly more vulnerable in this kind of situation. And it helps when straight cisgender people acknowledge that – either by saying “It’s not a big deal for me but I get why you’re concerned” or by saying “Yeah, I don’t like it either — but I hear that might be worse for you.” If a straight cisgender person tells me that it’s not a problem because all athletes / all theatre people / everyone in modelling / all health professionals don’t see nudity, that feels disrespectful to me, ignoring my lived experience which I am trying to talk about.

  36. I should probably know this.*

    “Particularly in the wake of the devastating recent Supreme Court case”

    umm…what is this referring too?

    1. Nina*

      This is possibly 303 Creative vs Elenis, came up recently, said discriminating on the basis of someone’s sexual orientation was A-OK as long as you bullshit up a ‘sincere belief’ reason.

      Understandably it’s made a lot of queer people in the US nervous, and a lot of queer people outside the US rethink any plans that might have required them to go to the US in future.

      1. *kalypso*

        Expanding a bit, the plaintiff in that case was a web designer who didn’t want to make websites for wedding announcements for same-sex weddings. The SC decision was premised on websites being an artistic expression and therefore an expression of free speech, but the decision didn’t give a clear test for what counts as artistic expression or where the line is. That means that with the conservatives brought into the judicial system since 2016, that line can be much further than ‘art’ and would likely be extended to the wedding cake scenarios previous similar cases have envisaged because cake decoration is technically artistic (the cake itself may be functional in the way clothes get exempted from copyright because you need them in order to not be killed by the weather, but the decorations sometimes aren’t even edible or part of the cake, so).

        So coming on from repealing Roe v Wade and how long some of these people may stay on the bench, it’s sending a very strong message beyond the decision itself.

  37. Coin_Operated*

    I do not understand why our society forces people (be it high school locker rooms, or gyms, healthcare clubs, etc…) to shower, change and get nude in front of each other. All of this could be solved by redesigning the showers to have a private changing area in them. That should be standard. This whole “get naked in front of everyone” business in health/exercise settings is weird, and it’s entirely manufactured of our own making. I chose my gym specifically because it has a private changing area you can go to.

    1. allathian*

      Having only private changing room spaces would require much larger changing rooms and showers.

      1. Coin_Operated*

        My work actually has bathrooms (it’s bathrooms for a houseless shelter so the showers are just in the bathroom), and it’s basically just a small curtained area right outside each shower, it’s just so people can step out of the shower to change in a dry space but it literally barely takes up extra space. My gym has a giant, oversized “locker” room that is never full, in addition to several private changing areas. It has nothing to do with space. It’s an intentional design to prepare people for “public changing”, specifically for the military.

  38. Hope*

    I work in costume in film and theater, and a frequent sign of professionalism in my context is to behave like an adult around the various people who have to change and occasionally take off their clothes around you. You have to measure unclothed bodies, reach into clothes to affix microphone equipment, and adjust the fit of garments people are wearing, and it’s just a part of the job to deal with your coworkers this way. It helps to have standards and to do checkins, where you ask before you interact physically with people’s clothed and unclothed bodies. I know it’s not exactly the same as the letter writers problem, but it reminded me of similar experiences.

  39. Jellyfish Catcher*

    This is an aside to Alison:
    Today, under this letter, you listed my Forever Favorite title:
    “When going to a nude sauna with coworkers, what do I do about my nipple
    piercings?” (And the commentariat provided a solution!!)

    I was a manager (and more) at one time. Management doesn’t give us funny and better weirdness than that title. When I refer friends to your site, I often mention this title, so they don’t think it’s just another boring “management” site.
    Many thanks!

  40. Mmm.*

    I’ve been a member of several gyms, and any that weren’t “budget” had a place where you could change without being nude in front of others. If a place truly prides itself on inclusivity, this is necessary for people from religions that disallow them from showing skin. There weren’t 50 or anything, but there were several changing stalls. And they were of
    always by the showers, if not attached to them, so the towel thing shouldn’t even happen.

    It sounds like this place is far from budget. Where do people who aren’t comfortable being nude in front of others change? If I was in a position of power and wanted to use a space like this, my personal preferences (i.e., changing outside of a room) would.be put aside for their comfort and my protection.

    If there isn’t a changing space, that should be added to the communication with HR. It goes back to the inclusivity issue.

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