Are You Unknowingly Running an Exempt-Employee Sweatshop?

By Bernard Ellis President & Founder, Lodgital Insights LLC | November 11, 2018

It stands to reason that the older you get, the less you get to work alongside people who are a lot older than you. Some of my favorite memories from working in hotels are the conversations I used to have with both guests and co-workers who were old enough to be my parents or grandparents. I miss that. It was one of many examples of the richly diverse environment hotels offer, where you can learn a lot about your fellow humans in a short amount of time. What do you have in common, and what makes them different and interesting?

This is the very essence of why people travel on their own dime. Visiting a full service hotel's public areas can be one of the most efficient ways to get a sense of a community's culture-how they celebrate, how they mourn, how they work, how they play--and many of us first got into this industry because we wanted to be in the middle of all that, and have our fingers on the pulse of our communities.

But it can work both ways. in these polarized, chaotic times, hotels now offer a front row seat to witness all the dynamics that increasingly divide us. List any of the major issue of the day, and there are likely to be people in the building whom it affects, be it the immigration controversy, income inequality, racism, ageism, sexism, homophobia, and the list unfortunately goes on. Our older colleagues and guests will say these things have always been undercurrents that were hiding in plain sight, but now the ugliness and tension that have come to dominate our politics are also now quite at home in hotel employee cafeterias and breakrooms, and even front of house.

Participants in this diverse workplace have been discovering that they have even less in common with each other than they thought, not to mention with the guests who increasingly seem like they come from a different world, and who to a growing extent, can't seem to get out the door fast enough to seek their unique travel experiences off property.

While all this broader tension has been fomenting over the past year and a half, it has perhaps overshadowed another undercurrent of deep division, anger, and bitter disappointment that has affected a certain group of people: the new Fair Labor Standards Act overtime regulations that were supposed to go into effect on December 1, 2016--but didn't. 1 For those of you who don't know what I'm referring to (and clearly you don't work in HR), these were the rules that were to nearly double the minimum salary an employee had to be paid before being ineligible for (also known as "exempt" from) overtime pay.

Before I go any further, I should explain why this issue is so near and dear to me. Most of the life-long hospitality professionals now reading this will distinctly remember a significant career milestone: the day that your new name badge began to include your last name and job title. It may have also entailed turning in your ugly polyester uniform to the laundry one last time, and finally getting to wear the business attire of your choosing. Most significantly, the transition usually involved moving from being an hourly employee to a salaried one, otherwise known by the now familiar term "exempt."

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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.