Vaccine Passports and Gym Owners: An All-Time Catch-22

A young man in a tree saws off the branch he's sitting on.

I hate seeing business owners forced into no-win situations.

But after a very tough 18 months of the COVID pandemic, governments are once again making it harder for business owners to succeed.

Case in point: Proof-of-vaccination requirements for access to fitness facilities, as well as other “non-essential” establishments such as restaurants and theaters.

In Canada, governments in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia are rolling out vaccine passports—or have done so already. Around the world, vaccine passports are also becoming common: BBC.com.

I’ll stay well clear of the debate about vaccination and vaccine passports. I’ll just say that the current policies put many business owners in an impossible position.

A head shot of writer Mike Warkentin and the column name "Pressing It Out."

Think about it: No matter what a gym owner does, people will be upset.

Adhere to regulations and an owner risks the wrath of people who are not vaccinated and can no longer access a service or facility. The owner might also disappoint vaccinated people who think the new requirements go too far.

Disobey regulations and an owner risks the wrath of both the government and people who are vaccinated.

Reminder: Please reserve your criticism of unvaccinated or vaccinated people. And leave the individual choices of business owners out of it as well. We aren’t here to argue about any of that.

The point is that businesses might suffer no matter how they respond.


Anti-Vaxxers, the Vaccinated and Vitriol


Check out this article from Global News: “Quebec Gym Owner Facing Threats Over Policy to Require Clients to Show Proof of Vaccination.”

Short summary: A long-term gym owner got aggressively trolled for his decision. He was getting threats and one-star reviews from people who had never been to the gym. Granted, he put his policy in place before the government mandate, but that’s just a matter of timing. And threats are threats.

Across the country, a restaurateur is being attacked for following government policies: “B.C. Restaurant Owner Suffers Online Threats and Abuse for Stance on Vaccine Passports.”

Over in Massachusetts, another restaurant owner is getting threats. In Portland, a bakery now keeps bear mace handy after an angry customer threatened to rape an employee. Ontario entrepreneurs have already been subject to protests and are likely to see more as the government rolls out its passport system.

The anger flows both ways. Some B.C. businesses are openly stating they won’t follow the orders: Global B.C. One commenter on that video stated her business will not ask customers for private info.

A responder: “Please post the name of your establishment so we can avoid it.”

Another responder: “I will not support your business.”

One more: “Then shut down, please.”

All this is added to the strain most businesses are already feeling. They’ve had to spend more on cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment, they’ve been forced to close, they’ve had to limit capacity, they’ve had to alter procedures on the fly, they’ve had to develop new services, they’ve lost clients who are scared to go out in public, they can’t get stock or supplies, they can’t find staff—the list goes on.

Where I live, one struggling local restaurant literally closed its dine-in service before vaccine passports arrived simply because it was short staffed and couldn’t deal with angry customers screaming about slow service on a weekend evening.

Whatever your politics, we can all agree that this situation is unfair. One side or the other will be angry no matter what, and gym owners are forced to risk alienating or offending a significant percentage of their patrons with any action.

So what do gym owners do?


Communicate!


Chris Cooper and the Two-Brain team already whipped up a document that helps our clients navigate the situation. It’s got the options laid out, and it includes an email that can be adjusted and sent to clients to get out front of any issues. If you’re in Two-Brain and haven’t seen it, contact your mentor ASAP. Then take action.

Our clients are also sharing strategies in our private Facebook group: One helped another review local government requirements to find a way to serve all clients in an outdoor setting that’s onside of regulations.

For those on the outside, I’ll offer this advice from a PR standpoint: Over-communicate with your clients, explain your position and remind them that you care about all of them regardless of their individual politics or choices. Most will understand you’re in an impossible position. One option: Be prepared to offer alternative services for the segment of your membership that can’t or won’t access your gym. And be prepared to brush off a few angry people—chalk their reactions up to extreme stress and move on.

That plan, of course, doesn’t do much to mitigate the rage of the mobs on either side of the debate.

My best advice for dealing with the public: Keep your head down and avoid online arguments. You can’t win them and will only alienate one group to a greater degree. Online debates are not for the faint of heart these days.

If you must engage, I’d simply be calm and explain that you’re in a no-win situation. Your goal is to look reasonable rather than rabid to anyone who sees the engagement. Then get back to serving your existing clients to the best of your ability.

I’d also contact local elected representatives to voice your concerns. It might not do much, but maybe it will help. If we’ve learned one thing about pandemics, politicians and mobs, it’s that squeaky wheels tend to get grease.


How You Can Help


If you’re reading this and don’t run a business, or if you’re an entrepreneur who’s frustrated with another business, here’s my request:

Be kind to all entrepreneurs and their staffs regardless of their politics—or yours.

Business owners signed up for a tough job but not an all-timer of a Catch-22. It’s going to be hard for a while. But they’ll find a way through this eventually, and your kindness and understanding will help them do so.

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