Hotel Workers: Vulnerable and Alone
Cities across the country implement policies to keep staff safe from sexual assault and harassment.
- By Gen Handley
- Apr 21, 2021
When was the last time you stayed in a hotel? If we had to guess, it was probably more than year ago, before the pandemic changed our lives forever. In fact, 2020 was the worst year in recorded history for the U.S. hotel industry, having more than one billion rooms gone unsold, which beat the previous record of 786 million unsold rooms during the recession in 2009.
But thankfully, more than one year after COVID-19 struck, the hotel industry is starting to pick up with small increases in business and leisure travel. According to a recent report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, hotel industry employment increased by around 300,000 jobs in March, followed by the addition of more than 300,000 jobs in February.
Violence and Sexual Harassment
Most of these workers returning to work are women; the US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that nearly 90 percent of hotel housekeepers are female. These women, while cleaning rooms and performing other essential duties, face a high level of violence and sexual harassment, which is completely unacceptable for people who are making sure we have a clean and safe home away from home.
This problem has become so pervasive that governments are taking action and major hotel chains are starting to take serious action such as Chicago’s “Hands Off, Pants On” campaign which led to the city passing legislation requiring employers to provide hotel staff with panic buttons as well as implement anti-sexual harassment policies. In 2018, the world’s largest hotel company Marriott International was pressured by the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations to improve safety conditions. Eventually, the major chain announced it would provide panic buttons and alert devices for its many vulnerable workers. That same year, the American Hotel and Lodging Association announced it the 5-Star Promise, a voluntary commitment from the association’s members (close to 60 companies representing an estimated 20,000 hotels) “to enhance policies, trainings and resources, including employee safety devices that together are aimed and strengthening safety and security for hotel employees and guests.”
Panic Buttons and Emergency Communication Devices
So with most of these hotel staff working in rooms alone or sometimes in the presence of a guest, how can we protect these people so they can do their jobs safely and with peace of mind? As you read earlier, the primary safety solution for hotel workers is a panic button or a portable emergency contact device, which they can use to call for help if they feel uncomfortable or feel like their well-being is threatened.
The good news is that there is a wide range of panic buttons to choose from, a variety of options to not only meet the legal requirements of the city and/or state but accommodate the sometimes-unique needs of the hotel and its staff as well. For example, when pushed, some panic buttons silently alert a monitor who is standing by online, or some might initiate a loud noise to signal and emergency.
Additionally, there are panic buttons in which the purchase of additional hardware is not required, and the employer can employ the panic button on downloadable smartphone apps, significantly reducing costs and training.
Beyond Panic Buttons and Other Safety Considerations
Panic buttons are currently the most mainstream solution for hotel workers, but they aren’t the only resource in the worker safety toolbox. As you’ll read further, there are several effective tech-based tools that employers can leverage for the well-being of their team.
Automated Worker Safety Check in Systems
Another great way to improve the physical and mental well-being of hotel workers is have them check in and check out after each shift, or even each room, confirming their safety with their employer. These check-ins can be performed manually with the worker verbally confirming their safety or, if possible, a visual check by the manager or monitor. However, what is more ideal is having an automated system in place and practice, which is not only easier to use and more dependable as it reduces the possibility of human error.
Panic buttons are a great tool to call for help quickly, but it is a reactive solution. What is so effective about automated check ins is that they are proactive, focusing attention on the worker before an emergency happens. Hotel employers can have workers check in before and after their shift, or if the staff member is working a potentially high-risk environment, the check-in and check-out intervals can be shortened to much shorter increments such as the time it takes to clean a room.
Hotel Worker Safety Legislation
As we mentioned earlier, governments and municipalities across the U.S. are starting to take action to protect tens of thousands of hotel workers. Here is a list that provides a good overall picture of what’s being done:
- State of New Jersey: Senate No. 2986
Since June 2019, the State of New Jersey requires that all New Jersey hotels, with more than 100 rooms must provide staff with a panic button as well as signs in the guest rooms detailing the panic button policy and the rights of hotel employees. Read more about the bill here.
- State of Washington: Senate Bill 5258
Since January, 2020, all State of Washington hotels and motels, with 60 rooms or more, are required to equip employees with panic buttons while working. And since January 1, 2021, hotels and motels with less than 60 rooms must comply with this legislation as well. Read more about the bill here.
- State of Illinois: Hotel and Casino Employee Safety Act
Since July, 2020, the State of Illinois made it mandatory that its hotels with more than 100 guest rooms must provide panic buttons, at no cost, for both part-time and full-time employees. Read more about the act here.
- City of Oakland: Measure Z
In November 2018, Oakland voters helped pass Measure Z, a law that requires hotels with 50 or more rooms to provide employees with increased minimum wage, panic buttons and workload restrictions to prevent fatigue, a common issue amongst hotel staff. Read more about Measure Z here.
- City of Miami Beach: Ordinance No. 2018-4207
Since August 2019, Ordinance No. 2018-4207 has protected Miami hotel and hostel workers from assault and sexual harassment with panic buttons and portable emergency contact devices. Read more about the ordinance here.
- City of Seattle: Chapter 14.25 Hotel Employees Health and Safety
Passed in November 2016, the City of Seattle passed the Hotel Employees Health and Safety (HEHS) Initiative which requires employers to provide panic buttons to all employees who provide in-room services for hotels with 60 rooms or more. Read more about the initiative here.
City of Chicago: Municipal Code 4-6-180
Since July 2018, all Chicago hotels must provide any staff who clean, inspect or restock guest rooms or restrooms alone with a panic button or notification device. The Code also requires employers to make sure that the panic buttons are working correctly, charged, portable and activated. Read more about the ordinance here.
- City of Santa Monica: Chapter 4.67 Hotel Worker Protection
As of January, 2020, all Santa Monica hotels must provide their staff with panic buttons (regardless of the hotel’s size). Under the law, employers are obligated to provide a security guard, manager or a supervisory hotel staff member who can provide instant help if an emergency is signaled. Read more about the code here.
- City of Sacramento: Hotel Worker Protection Ordinance
Effective July 14, 2020, Sacramento hotels had six months to implement panic buttons and hotel worker safety solution. When pressed, their panic buttons send an alert to the designated hotel security staff with the distressed employee’s location. Read more about the ordinance here.
Moving forward, you can see a lot has been done to increase the protection of hotel workers, but even with the sweeping implementation of safety legislation, there are still thousands of staff members who currently are not protected and, therefore, vulnerable to the violence and harassment that is unfortunately so prevalent in the industry. Hotels and employers need to take advantage of and leverage the existing technology and tools available so that their staff is not only safe, but there is valuable peace of mind for both the workers and management – that in itself is worth a lot.