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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Coming up in January 2019...

Mobile Technology: The Future is Now

Mobile Technology continues to advance at a relentless pace and the hotel industry continues to adapt. Hotel guests have shown a strong preference for mobile self-service - from checking-in/out at a hotel kiosk, to ordering room service, making dinner reservations, booking spa treatments, and managing laundry/dry cleaning services. And they also enjoy the convenience of paying for these services with smart phone mobile payments. In addition, some hotels have adopted a “concierge in your pocket” concept. Through a proprietary hotel app, guests can access useful information such as local entertainment venues, tourist attractions, event calendars, and medical facilities and services. In-room entertainment continues to be a key factor, as guests insist on the capacity to plug in their own mobile devices to customize their entertainment choices. Mobile technology also allows for greater marketing opportunities. For example, many hotels have adopted the use of “push notifications” - sending promotions, discounts and special event messages to guests based on their property location, purchase history, profiles, etc. Near field communication (NFC) technology is also being utilized to support applications such as opening room doors, earning loyalty points, renting a bike, accessing a rental car, and more. Finally, some hotels have adopted more futuristic technology. Robots are in use that have the ability to move between floors to deliver room service requests for all kinds of items - food, beverages, towels, toothbrushes, chargers and snacks. And infrared scanners are being used by housekeeping staff that can detect body heat within a room, alerting staff that the room is occupied and they should come back at a later time. The January Hotel Business Review will report on what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in this exciting mobile technology space.