AUDIO: Gym sales manager accused of staff abuse

Head-butting, leaf eating in list of complaints

A Walmer gym sales boss is being hauled before a disciplinary hearing over alleged physical and verbal abuse of his staff, including head-butting one of them, shaving off another’s eyebrow and forcing some employees to eat leaves or drink sour milk.

He is also being taken to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) by one of the employees and is the subject of a criminal complaint that the woman, and another former employee, has laid with the police.

The alleged abuse by Planet Fitness sales manager Nolan Leslie goes back more than a year.

An audio clip of a staff meeting on August 22 prompted the Planet Fitness head office in Johannesburg to announce yesterday that Leslie would be given the chance to respond to the accusations in a disciplinary hearing.

Leslie has also been accused of extorting a total of R12 000 from a former employee who, in desperate attempts to meet sales targets, had run afoul of internal sales policies.

In the audio clip, the authenticity of which was not disputed by either Leslie or the club’s national management, Leslie is heard swearing at men and women sales staff, at one point referring to an employee as a “motherf **** r”.

Asked about the clip, Leslie said it had been taken out of context and set up to put him in a bad light.

The Port Elizabeth branch is one of Planet Fitness’s top sales performers nationally.

The allegations came to light late last week when Faizel Porter, a manager at new Bay nonprofit organisation the Independent Workers Advice Centre, took up the case of former Planet Fitness saleswoman … Kristen Clarke.

Clarke alleged that she had been fired after she refused to drink sour milk when ordered to do so by Leslie about three weeks ago.

She expects her case to come before the CCMA on Friday.

Porter’s investigations into Clarke’s dismissal from the Moffett on Main Lifestyle Centre club unearthed at least two other employees who had allegedly suffered abuse at the branch and had subsequently been fired.

Porter, who accompanied the former employees to lay criminal complaints against Leslie at the Walmer Police Station last week, said one of the reasons for the actions taken was to prevent existing and future staff from being abused.

Police spokeswoman Colonel Priscilla Naidu confirmed yesterday that the complaints had been laid. One was for assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, which allegedly took place in 2015, and the other was for intimidation.

In correspondence, dated October 4, sent to the club’s head office – which it has acknowledged receiving – Porter listed more than 17 separate allegations of abuse of staff members over more than a year.

The staff claim the alleged abuse took place when performance targets were not met. The alleged abuse includes: ý Swearing at employees and demeaning them in front of colleagues; ý Threatening to assault employees; ý Head-butting an employee in the presence of co-workers;

  • Cutting an employee’s eyebrow (just the one) in the presence of co-workers;
  • Cutting an employee’s hair halfway (half the head) with a blunt razor in the presence of co-workers;
  • Forcing employees to swallow products with “illegal and or forbidden substances (fat burner) against their will” in the presence of co-workers;
  • Making staff go outside, pick leaves from trees and aloes and eat them; and
  • Forcing employees to drink alcohol and other concoctions against their will in the presence of co-workers during working hours at the premises.

Planet Fitness’s public relations consultant, Shiri Reouveni, said: “Planet Fitness is most concerned about allegations which have surfaced concerning unacceptable conduct attributed to its Walmer sales manager.

“Mr Leslie will be afforded an opportunity to answer these serious accusations in a disciplinary inquiry that is being convened.”

She said that with respect to the pending CCMA proceedings, the company’s human resources manager, Ryno Strydom, had said it would be inappropriate and unfair to the parties to comment on proceedings that were sub judice.

National sales director Mannee de Wet said: “We are determined to hold Mr Leslie to the standards required of a Planet Fitness manager.

“The accusations that have been levelled against him are totally against our ethos and the conduct that we require of our staff.”

Approached at his office at the gym on Friday, Leslie expressed shock at the “surprise” development, saying he had only just become aware of the allegations.

He later acknowledged that he was fully aware of the audio clip.

In a written response to the allegations yesterday, he said: “None of the allegations have any substance.

“I have never forced any staff members to perform any actions against their will, nor was I involved in any fraudulent activities as alleged.

“I have moulded a highly motivated and skilful team to cope in this highly stressed and competitive fast-paced sales environment in this industry.”

Concerning the clip, he said: “The audio clip was misconstrued and completely taken out of context and set up to put me in a bad light.

“This meeting was to discuss the poor performance of the team while I was on leave under her [Clarke’s] supervision.

“As a team, we had been in the top three in the country before I went on leave and, on my return, we were second last, which led to that meeting.”

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