Hotels Consider Measures to Maintain Harassment-Free Workplaces

Katz Banks Kumin partner Debra Katz was quoted in a Bloomberg article, “Hotels Add ‘Panic Buttons’ to Protect Housekeepers from Guests.” Housekeepers at hotels are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault due to their workplace conditions, including reliance on customer satisfaction, physical isolation, and alcohol consumption by guests.

Until recently, employees had to settle for statements and vague promises from hotel management to improve prevention and reporting. Following the 2012 high-profile case involving allegations of sexual assault against former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, New York City housekeepers in all unionized hotels have been equipped with panic buttons that summon help.

A recent court ruling in California finding a hotel employer potentially liable under state law in a case where a trespasser allegedly raped a hotel worker has put the industry under further pressure to improve safety.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association, which includes brands such as Marriot, Hilton, and Hyatt, are waiting until next summer to implement panic buttons. Part of the industry’s motivation may be to decrease its legal liability by providing a harassment-free workplace.

“Failing to take appropriate preventative measures to protect people from things even occurring could very well lead to liability,” explains Ms. Katz.

Regardless of the reasons behind the move, panic buttons provide much needed help to keep vulnerable employees safe at work.

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