The Outlook for Hotel and Resort Operators Post-BFI

Waiting to Exhale

By Dana Kravetz Managing Partner, Michelman & Robinson, LLP | March 05, 2017

Eighteen months since the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) revised its standard for the imposition of joint employer liability, and hoteliers remain in a state of legal limbo, unsure what 2017 and beyond have in store on the issue. For those hotel and resort operators whose best response to the question, “how should we continue to move forward in the wake of BFI?” is a shrug of the shoulders, a current scorecard for your consideration.

The BFI Decision

The NLRB shook the hotel franchisor/franchisee landscape with its jaw-dropping Browning-Ferris Industries of California (BFI) decision back in August 2015, which drastically eased the criteria for a company to be considered a joint employer. In lieu of the longstanding and traditional joint employer test that focused on governance, wage and supervision decisions and control, the NLRB in BFI adopted a new and much more lenient standard requiring that a business merely exercise “indirect” (or potential) control over workers to be held liable for labor violations committed by franchisors and contractors. While BFI involved a waste management company and its interaction with a contractor hired to clean and sort recycled products, the implications of the NLRB’s ruling are far-reaching and apply to all relationships in which tasks and responsibilities are outsourced. After BFI, Plaintiffs’ attorneys are left licking their chops.

The BFI Appeal

Not surprisingly, BFI promptly appealed the NLRB’s decision, seeking review by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The appeal is scheduled to be heard on March 9, 2017, though it is anybody’s guess when a ruling will be handed down, hopefully by year’s end. In the meantime, executives in a range of industries, including hospitality, sit at the edge of their seats, hoping the D.C. Circuit Court accepts the following argument as set forth in BFI’s reply brief:

“The board’s decision ignores the longstanding rule that joint employment does not exist absent the exercise of substantial direct and immediate control by the putative joint employer, improperly holds that ‘indirect’ or ‘reserved’ control are sufficient standing alone to establish joint-employer status under the common law, and interprets the concepts of ‘indirect’ and ‘reserved’ control to include notions of economic influence which the board is prohibited from considering under the distinctive history of the NLRA.”

Coming up in January 2018...

Mobile Technology: Relentless Innovation

Technology has become a crucial component in attracting and retaining hotel guests, and the need to enhance a guest’s technology experience is driving a relentless pace of innovation. To meet and exceed guest expectations, 54% of hotels will spend more on technology in 2018, and mobile solutions in particular will top the list of capital investments. Many hotels are integrating mobile booking, mobile keys, mobile payments and mobile check-in into their operations. Other hotels are emphasizing the in-room experience, boosting bandwidth and upgrading flat screen TVs to more easily interface with guest mobile devices. And though not yet mainstream, there are many exciting technology developments on the near horizon. The Internet of Things (loT) is taking form in some places, and can be found in guest room control systems, voice activation systems, and in wearable sensors that can be used for access and payment options. Virtual reality headsets are available at some hotels so guests can enjoy virtual trips to exotic locations or if off-property, preview conference facilities and guest rooms. How long will it be before a hotel employs a fleet of robots for room service, or utilizes a hologram as a concierge, or installs gesture-controlled walls that feature interactive digital displays? Some hotels are already using augmented reality for translation services, or interactive wall maps, or even virtual décor. This pace of innovation is challenging property owners and brands to stay on top of the latest technology trends while still addressing current projects. The January Hotel Business Review will explore what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in the mobile technology space.