“Panic Button” Laws Make Their Way Across The U.S.
Last August, we wrote about a Chicago ordinance requiring hotel employers to, among other things, equip hotel employees assigned to work in guestrooms or restrooms with portable emergency contact devices. The emergency contact devices, referred to as “panic buttons,” may be used to summon help if the employee reasonably believes that an ongoing crime, sexual harassment, sexual assault or other emergency is occurring in the employee’s presence. The Chicago ordinance took effect July 1, 2018.
Shortly after the Chicago City Council approved the ordinance, AB 1761 was introduced in the California Assembly. While the bill passed the Assembly, it did not make its way into law. Similar to the Chicago ordinance, the California bill, among other things, would have required hotel employers to provide their employees with a panic button in order to summon immediate assistance when working alone in a guestroom.
While the California statewide bill did not pass, local ordinances in Sacramento and Long Beach (California) have since received approval. The Sacramento County Hotel Worker Protection Act of 2018 applies to hotels or motels with 25 or more rooms, located in the unincorporated area of Sacramento County. Not only does it require every hotel licensee to equip each employee who is assigned to work in a guest room or restroom with a panic button or notification device, it also requires every hotel licensee to develop, maintain, and comply with a written sexual harassment policy to protect employees against sexual assault and sexual harassment by guests. The policy must describe the procedures the complaining employee and hotel licensee shall follow in instances of alleged sexual assault and sexual harassment by guests. And, in Long Beach, hotels of any size must provide panic buttons to employees. The Long Beach ordinance also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who decide to use their panic buttons.
Local panic button measures have expanded beyond California. Miami Beach, for instance, passed a measure effective August 1, 2019 requiring hotels and hostels in the City of Miami Beach to provide a safety button or notification device to each hotel or hostel employee that is a room attendant, housekeeping attendant, minibar attendant, or room service server. An employee may use the safety button or notification device if the employee reasonably believes there is an ongoing crime, harassment, or other emergency in the employee’s presence. Affected employers are also required to submit an affidavit with the annual renewal of the hotel’s or hostel’s City business tax receipt stating the hotel or hostel employer is in compliance with the ordinance.
Apart from the passage of local ordinances, “panic button” measures have made their way into several collective bargaining agreements across the country, including those in New York. As a result, the lodging industry should keep a close eye on these measures as they are gaining momentum nationwide.