California Takes Aim at Industry with Housekeeper-Specific Safety Proposal

By Benjamin Ebbink Of Counsel, Fisher Phillips | May 07, 2017

Responding to years of pressure from union advocates and their allies, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) has proposed a first-in-the-nation, industry-specific rule aimed at hotel housekeepers. If enacted, this proposal would greatly impact the industry in California (as well as operators who conduct business in multiple states including California). In addition, as California tends to lead the nation in employment and workplace safety standards, operators in other states should monitor this proposal closely – what happens in California may come to your state next!

After many years of discussion and debate, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board recently issued a proposed standard on "Hotel Housekeeping Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention." The proposal currently is open for public comment and will be considered further by the Board at a public hearing on May 18 in Oakland.

How We Got Here

For many years now, worker representatives (especially hotel worker union UNITE HERE) have advocated for special protections for hotel housekeepers, who they claim are exposed to serious occupational risks in the course of their normal work duties. In recent years, these advocates have pushed for local and state legislation to address issues such as hotel housekeeper workload, safe work practices, and other occupational standards. Several years ago, there was even (unsuccessful) California state legislation that would have required hotels to use "fitted" bottom sheets and long-handled tools to reduce the alleged strain on housekeepers.

Back in January 2012, UNITE HERE filed a petition with the Cal/OSHA Standards Board requesting the adoption of a specific standard to address workplace safety issues for hotel housekeepers. Among other things, the petition called for a ceiling of 5,000 square footage of total room space that employees may be assigned to during an 8-hour shift, a prohibition on requiring workers to clean bathroom floors and toilets in a stooped or kneeling position, mandatory use of fitted bottom sheets, and other specific requirements.

In May 2012, the Board rejected Cal/OSHA's recommendation to grant the petition, but subsequently requested that Cal/OSHA convene an advisory committee to discuss the issue further. From October 2012 through December 2015, Cal/OSHA convened five advisory committee meetings to solicit input from stakeholders.

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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.