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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Coming up in March 2019...

Human Resources: An Era of Transition

Traditionally, the human resource department administers five key areas within a hotel operation - compliance, compensation and benefits, organizational dynamics, selection and retention, and training and development. However, HR professionals are also presently involved in culture-building activities, as well as implementing new employee on-boarding practices and engagement initiatives. As a result, HR professionals have been elevated to senior leadership status, creating value and profit within their organization. Still, they continue to face some intractable issues, including a shrinking talent pool and the need to recruit top-notch employees who are empowered to provide outstanding customer service. In order to attract top-tier talent, one option is to take advantage of recruitment opportunities offered through colleges and universities, especially if they have a hospitality major. This pool of prospective employees is likely to be better educated and more enthusiastic than walk-in hires. Also, once hired, there could be additional training and development opportunities that stem from an association with a college or university. Continuing education courses, business conferences, seminars and online instruction - all can be a valuable source of employee development opportunities. In addition to meeting recruitment demands in the present, HR professionals must also be forward-thinking, anticipating the skills that will be needed in the future to meet guest expectations. One such skill that is becoming increasingly valued is “resilience”, the ability to “go with the flow” and not become overwhelmed by the disruptive influences  of change and reinvention. In an era of transition—new technologies, expanding markets, consolidation of brands and businesses, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles - the capacity to remain flexible, nimble and resilient is a valuable skill to possess. The March Hotel Business Review will examine some of the strategies that HR professionals are employing to ensure that their hotel operations continue to thrive.