September 18, 2018
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Hotel chains to tackle worker safety and protection against sexual harassment

Ted S. Warren | AP
Ted S. Warren | AP
In this Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018, photo the Embassy Suites by Hilton hotel in Seattle's Pioneer Square neighborhood is shown in Seattle. Housekeeping workers at the hotel use devices that let them push a button and summon help if they are in a threatening situation while working.
Rachel Siegel, The Washington Post

Through personal safety devices and revamped corporate policies, America’s largest hotel brands are joining a collective effort to protect workers from assault and sexual harassment.

The pledge will set a new industry standard for employee security and education around harassment, major hotel companies and the American Hotel & Lodging Association announced Thursday. Hoteliers including Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Wyndham have each signed onto the partnership. The companies also consulted with Tina Tchen, co-founder of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which connects those who experience sexual misconduct with legal assistance, in forming the new commitment.

“Unfortunately, no industry is immune to dealing with sexual harassment, but we will continue to work, day in and day out, so America’s hotels are secure places for all those who work in and visit them,” said Katherine Lugar, president and chief executive of AHLA, in a statement.

The hotel industry has had to contend with issues of worker safety, particularly for housekeepers and others who work in private hotel rooms and may often be alone on the job. Moreover, the rise of the #MeToo movement has put additional pressure on large hotel chains to mandate stricter protections for tens of thousands of workers. Over the past decade, more than a quarter of sexual harassment charges were filed in industries heavily staffed by service workers, according to a November analysis by the Center for American Progress of unpublished data by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Calls for worker safety, especially surrounding sexual harassment, have come before top-tier hotel executives before. In May, eight female Marriott employees traveled to the company’s annual shareholder meeting to tell their experiences of harassment on the job. Arne Sorenson, Marriott’s president and chief executive, responded to each comment by telling the employees that they should not have to come to work fearful for their safety.

With the partnership, companies will provide ongoing training and education on identifying and reporting experiences of sexual harassment. And they will provide employees in the U.S. with personal safety devices to have on hand at work, including in private guest rooms.

Some hotels already provide the safety devices in cities including New York, Chicago, Seattle and Washington, in some cases to comply with local legislation. Under the new pledge, participating hotel companies will expand use of their devices depending on the layout and features of their properties.

Personal safety devices come in different forms, and no single one device may work best in all situations. Devices that rely on WiFi, for example, won’t fit every building in every locale. Similarly, the needs of workers in large, urban hotels may differ from those at more rural properties.

The alliance also relies on partnerships with organizations specifically working to combat sexual assault and human trafficking, including End Child Prostitution and Trafficking, and the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

Erika Alexander, Marriott’s chief lodging services officer for the Americas, told The Washington Post that worker safety is not a new topic for the hotel industry. Rather, what has changed is the capability of new technology that can be used for worker safety. Alexander applauded the hotel chains for setting aside competition to take on a shared intolerance for harmful and dangerous behavior.

Moving forward, Alexander said that as technology further improves, the accessibility and affordability of personal devices and other safety tools will only improve for hoteliers and their thousands of employees.

“This isn’t a new conversation,” Alexander said. “We’re amping up our practices to make sure that we’re taking advantage of all the advancements around us.”

If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 1-800-871-7741.

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