America’s largest hotel brands banded together last fall in a collective effort to protect workers from assault and sexual harassment.
The lawsuits filed by housekeepers and other hotel workers, however, have continued, with allegations that their employers simply haven’t done enough to protect them from guest misconduct and, as a consequence, creating a hostile work environment.
Hotel workers are particularly vulnerable to sexual and workplace harassment. An analysis of claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by the Center for American Progress found that more than a quarter of complaints came from industries with large numbers of service-sector workers.
There’s no doubt that deterring and combating harassment of any kind is in everyone’s best interest. And there’s no disputing that hotels and municipalities have taken steps to protect employees, including the passage of laws requiring hotels to provide panic buttons to employees who work alone in guest rooms. In fact, the industry expects to spend tens of millions of dollars in coming years as it rolls out new technologies to keep employees – and guests – safe.
Technology alone, however, won’t be enough. What follows are five safety tips that hotel management can follow to help their employees fight sexual harassment and other threatening situations, while also minimizing your hotel’s legal liability:
Make sure your employees know the layout of your hotel, including exits. If you don’t provide panic buttons, make sure they know how to contact security. Talk to them about who they should report to if a guest harasses them.
Employees should know that, before entering a guest’s room, they should knock and announce that they are there. They need to glance around the room and check that no one is in the bathroom or behind a closet door. Surveying their surroundings prevents guests from surprising an employee and may ward off potential harassers who might sneak up on a victim.
While there is no behavior that will always prevent harassment, someone who appears uncertain and afraid is an easier target than someone who is confident and assertive. Train your employees to stand up straight, and make eye contact with a guest who is speaking to them or walking toward them. If a guest uses sexually explicit language or tries to touch them, they need to know they can firmly tell him to stop.
The usual focus of hospitality is to make guests happy and give them what they want, but if a guest is harassing or threatening, safety must take priority. Remind employees that, if they feel unsafe, they should leave the room, even if they haven’t completed their work. And let them know not to return to the room before security addresses the situation.
People may feel reluctant to report harassment because they believe it won’t deter the harasser or because they don’t want to talk about a painful experience. Those are valid concerns, but it’s necessary to report harassment so that hotels can ban abusive guests from their properties; for serious incidents like assault, you should call the police and press charges. Reporting abuse sends a message to all would-be abusive guests that their actions won’t be tolerated.
One more important point:
Any discussion on this topic would be incomplete without acknowledging that some owners and management are reluctant to put programs in place to educate employees about sexual harassment.
Their rationale goes something like this: “I don’t want to train my employees because if I train them, then I’m educating them how they can come after us (e.g., legal action) because I know this stuff is going on.’”
That, of course, is no strategy at all.
First, it suggests your organization cares more about its customers than it does about your employees, and, secondly, it does nothing to forestall the inevitable lawsuits.
Under the law, an employer can be found liable if it knew or should have known of the harassment and then failed to take prompt and effective remedial action. Moreover, the employer may face tort liability for such harassment if it knew in advance or should have known that a guest posed a risk.
Just ask any of the hotels, large and small, that have been sued.
Brian Parks is CCIG’s Commercial Lines VP of Sales. Reach him at 720-330-7923 or BrianP@thinkccig.com.
CCIG is a Denver-area insurance brokerage with the full-service capabilities of a national brokerage. We do more than make sure you have the right policy. We also help you manage your long-term cost of risk with our risk and claims management expertise and a commitment to service excellence.
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