Sexual Harassment and the Hospitality Industry: A Triple Threat

By Dana Kravetz Firm Managing Partner, Michelman & Robinson, LLP | March 18, 2018

The drumbeat of the #MeToo movement continues to shine a critically bright light on sexual misconduct and its shocking prevalence in the workplace. Without question, no industry is immune from incidents of sexual assault, and that includes the hospitality space. Indeed, given the unique nature of their operations, hoteliers must address the specter of sexual misconduct on their premises on multiple fronts. Call it a triple threat: sexual assaults of staff by guests; sexual harassment of hotel and resort employees by coworkers and supervisors; and sexual violence in guest rooms involving customers and third parties.

Housekeeping and the Threat of Sexual Assault

There may be no category of hospitality employees more vulnerable to the threat of sexual assault than housekeepers, whose job it is to enter guest rooms, most often alone. A relatively recent study of harassment in the workplace by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reveals why.

Housekeepers At Risk

The EEOC identified specific factors that put a workplace more at risk for harassment, and many of them are particularly relevant to the housekeeping experience. For instance, workers who do not speak English and may not know their rights may be more frequently subject to exploitation. Likewise, "low-status workers" are especially susceptible to harassment, as are those whose success relies upon customer satisfaction. There is more. According to the EEOC, sexual misconduct is more likely to occur in isolated workspaces. When a worker – like a housekeeper – is physically isolated (say, in the privacy of a guest room), with no witnesses in sight, they become easy targets for harassers. And finally, sexual assaults may be more commonplace in workplaces, such as a hotels and resorts, where the consumption of alcohol is tolerated.

The pervasiveness of these risk factors, in combination, creates a "perfect storm" for the sexual harassment of hotel staff, which explains why groping and even more extreme predatory behaviors are reported all too often – by housekeepers, among others. Some numbers in support of this claim: up to 58% of hotel and resort workers assert that they have been sexually harassed by a guest, and in excess of 49% have had guests open doors naked, this according to a 2016 survey on sexual harassment in the hospitality industry conducted by Unite Here Local 1, which represents 15,000 hospitality workers in Chicago.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.