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Hospitality workers suffering sexual harassment in silence

It is time for other industries to help stop sexual harassment

When we think of sexual harassment, recent news stories about entertainment industry icons and prominent political figures come to mind. But another segment of society has been contending with this issue for years. Media coverage of widespread sexual harassment scandals is finally giving them a platform to speak out. This overlooked group is comprised of low-wage employees in the hotel industry, especially those who work as housekeepers.

Too often, housekeepers must deal with suggestive comments, inappropriate touching and other lewd behavior by guests as they go about their jobs.

Fear and powerlessness

Housekeepers often work for little more than minimum wage. In an industry where "the customer is always right," and typically more affluent than the service workers, harassed employees believe they have no recourse but to endure sexual harassment in silence. Hotel management may be inclined to be preferential to guests over the safety and health of their low-income workers. Housekeepers are frequently hesitant to report these incidents for fear of losing their livelihood.

The statistics are alarming

According to one recent survey by a hospitality labor union, more than half of hotel workers and more than three-quarters of servers at casinos (58 percent and 77 percent, respectively) said guests have sexually harassed them. Not surprisingly, 56 percent of those hotel workers reported that they no longer felt safe on the job. Nearly two-thirds of casino workers admitted that a guest had touched them, or tried to touch them, inappropriately.

Cities take a stand

Sexual harassment in the hotel industry was brought to light in 2011, when a New York City hotel housekeeper accused French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her. In cities across the country, hospitality workers unions began lobbying for employees to have panic buttons so they could alert hotel security when they felt unsafe.

Seattle is the first city credited with passing panic button legislation. In 2012, the New York Hotel Trades Council successfully advocated to provide 30,000 housekeepers with panic buttons. In October 2017, Chicago passed a citywide ordinance requiring all hotels to provide the devices to employees who work alone cleaning hotel rooms or bathrooms. Also included in the law are provisions for reporting incidents of sexual harassment to the police.

Amid all the dialogue about sexual harassment, other locales will likely enact similar measures to protect vulnerable hotel workers. Regardless of position or income level, all employees have the right to be treated respectfully in the workplace.

Workers' compensation

In addition, workers' compensation is available for workers who have been injured on the job. In California, workers' compensation covers mental health and stress-related injuries incurred on the job. If sexual harassment or assault leads to post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or other mental health issue, it could be covered by workers' compensation. 

Civil liability

If workers are not protected, and hotel management fails to address the safety of workers, then the hotel may be liable in a civil lawsuit for sexual harassment. Keep in mind that every state has laws that prohibit retaliation of any kind for reporting sexual harassment. This is true regardless of employee classification, job title or immigration status.

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Hospitality workers suffering sexual harassment in silence | Rose, Klein & Marias, LLP