Change room etiquette: Legal stance on boys in women’s changing rooms in Australia

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Welcome to Sisters In Law, news.com.au’s weekly column solving all of your legal problems. This week, our resident lawyers and real-life sisters Alison and Jillian Barrett from Maurice Blackburn advise on the legalities of gendered change rooms.

QUESTION: I volunteer at a local swimming pool that’s open in my small community during the summer months. We had an incident last week where a mum brought her son in the changing rooms with her and another customer complained. Her son was 12 but was very tall for his age and looked older.

The customer who complained said that he was far too old to be in a situation where women may be naked, while the boy’s mum said it wasn’t safe for him to go in the men’s changing rooms alone. Unfortunately, we don’t have any non-gendered facilities.

What age can boys go into the changing rooms with their mum until? And what is my responsibility as the person who is in charge of the business (albeit non-profit) to make sure everyone feels comfortable? – Anon, Tasmania

ANSWER: The issue you’ve described can be sensitive and requires careful consideration to ensure the comfort and safety of all customers at the pool.

There are no specific legal regulations defining an age limit for when boys can enter changing rooms with their mothers (or girls with their fathers).

This means that while you’ve unfortunately had to deal with a customer complaint, the business itself has not breached any rules.

That said, here are some steps you can take:

Review existing policies

Check if the pool facility already has existing policies regarding changeroom usage. If not, you should establish your own policies to address this situation.

Having your own policies and communicating these to users of the pool (either upon entry, using signage on changeroom doors or via your website) is a good step towards ensuring everyone knows the expected standards of behaviour and feels safe.

Any policy you put in place should have an initial review period and then periodic reviews to ensure your policy adapts to changing community needs and concerns.

Engage with the community

Being a community facility, you may wish to talk to local community members and get their input on this issue.

You can hold a meeting or conduct a survey to gauge their opinions, concerns and potential solutions.

Balance inclusivity and comfort

In any situation like this, it’s essential to be respectful and understanding of all perspectives and to prioritise the safety and comfort of everyone using your facility.

Any policy needs to try to find a balance between ensuring everyone feels comfortable and included, and not behaving in a discriminatory way towards any particular group.

In that regard, you need to balance the safety concerns of the boy’s mother with the concerns of others in the changerooms.

For example, there may be young girls or teenagers using the changeroom who would not feel comfortable getting changed in the boy’s presence.

Safety measures

With respect to the mother’s argument that it is unsafe for her 12-year-old son to go to the men’s changing room, consider implementing additional security measures.

This could include installing surveillance cameras outside the changeroom entrance or increasing the staff presence in those areas to enhance safety.

If a security incident involving the changerooms did occur, being able to demonstrate the business had taken extra precautionary steps regarding customer safety may be of assistance if you had to respond to a formal complaint or a legal claim.

Privacy measures

Look into options to enhance privacy in the changing rooms. You can install private stalls or curtains for changing areas, and designate separate spaces for those who need more privacy.

You may also be able to repurpose an area for use as a communal, gender-neutral or family change area.

Educate staff

Being in charge of the pool places a responsibility on you to create an environment where everyone feels respected and secure.

Make sure your staff are trained to handle these situations respectfully and professionally.

They should be knowledgeable about the facility’s policies, and how to address customer concerns and find solutions.

This legal information is general in nature and should not be regarded as specific legal advice or relied upon. Persons requiring particular legal advice should consult a solicitor. If you have a legal question you would like Alison and Jillian to answer, please email stories@news.com.au. Get more from Alison and Jillian on their Facebook page.

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