As Americans slowly return to traveling as Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions ease, hotels are once again filling up. That means that many workers are returning to their hotel jobs. However, some studies show that the hospitality industry sees some of the highest numbers of sexual harassment complaints.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal. It is considered a form of sex and gender discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act protects employees and job applicants from discrimination in the workplace based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees. It includes the federal government, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor organizations. The EEOC enforces Title VII and workplace sexual harassment laws.
What is Workplace Sexual Harassment?
The EEOC’s definition of sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances and other harassment of a sexual nature that affects an individual’s employment or creates a hostile work environment. In a hostile work environment claim, a victim must prove the following:
- Behavior is directed at the person specifically because of their gender, including transgender.
- The employer is responsible for or allows the harassment, either directly or indirectly.
- Sexual harassment can come from other employees, customers, clients, vendors, and other third parties.
- The offenses are severe and/or pervasive enough that they affect an employee’s ability to do their job, or the level of harassment is so extreme that even one incident can affect the employee’s ability to do their job.
Quid pro quo occurs when a supervisor or other manager asks for or demands sexual contact in return for employment benefits or promotions. Even if the employee engaged in sexual behavior, it can still be considered sexual harassment if the employee felt pressured to have the sexual contact. Gender does not have to be the only reason a person was targeted for sexual harassment in a quid pro quo harassment claim.
Why are Hotel Workers Vulnerable to Sexual Harassment?
Various studies and data from the EEOC indicate that hospitality workers, including hotel employees, have some of the highest sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints of any industry. The reasons for these high rates include but are not limited to:
- Working in isolation. Hotel workers, particularly housekeepers, often work alone. This isolation increases the opportunity for sexual harassment.
- Working nonstandard hours. Hotel workers may start and end their shifts when fewer people are around, providing the opportunity for sexual harassment by a hotel guest, other employees, or a supervisor.
- Working near guests. Sometimes, housekeepers and other hotel workers perform their duties while a hotel guest is in the room or otherwise near them. This opens up the opportunity for unlawful behavior.
- Working for tips. The EEOC found that wait staff and hotel housekeepers who receive tips frequently experience harassment.
- Lacking legal immigrant status or having a temporary work visa. Many undocumented and immigrant women work in hotel jobs. They may fear reporting the behavior because of their immigration status. Others may not know their rights or how to report the harassment.
- Working in a low-wage position. A low-wage job may also mean a lack of protection against sexual harassment and no clear official complaint procedures.
What are Examples of Hotel Worker Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment can be verbal, non-verbal, visual, written, or physical. It can be done by a person of the same sex or different sex, a hotel guest, another employee, a contracted employee, or a supervisor or manager. Some common sexual harassment examples include:
- Rape and sexual assault.
- Brushing up against the employee.
- Touching, caressing, or rubbing the employee’s body.
- Physically blocking the employee’s movements.
- Following the employee around, stalking them, or paying them excessive attention.
- Asking for or pressuring the employee for dates or sexual encounters.
- Threatening the employee if they do not comply with sexual demands.
- Ogling the employee, staring at a specific body part.
- Making sexual comments about how the employee looks or is dressed.
- Displaying gestures, facial expressions, or other body movements that are sexual in nature.
What Happens if I am Sexually Harassed at My Hotel Job?
First and foremost, do not fear reporting the harassment. Sexual harassment and sexual assault are illegal. Perpetrators must be stopped as well as punished. Steps to take include:
- Contact the Human Resources (HR) department. Sometimes, in hotel work, that department might be offsite or even in another geographic location entirely. Regardless, find out the company’s policies and complaint procedures.
- Document the dates, times, frequency, and nature of the harassment and the harasser. Video or audio recordings can also help prove the harassment.
- Confront the harasser and tell them to stop. Deny demands of a sexual nature.
- Cooperate with the employer as they investigate the incidents. Share documentation and evidence.
- Document and follow up in writing any time there is a discussion about the harassment with company authorities, outside parties, and others.
If the employer does not respond or responds unsatisfactorily to the claim, the next step the employee must do is file a claim with the EEOC. An employee is protected from retaliation if they file with the EEOC.
A victim should speak to a lawyer who can:
- File the claim with the appropriate authorities.
- Assist in reporting the harassment to the employer.
- Help the victim comply with the employer’s investigation.
- Assist the victim in navigating the EEOC complaint process.
- Collect evidence to build a strong case in the employee’s favor.
- Negotiate a settlement with an employer or insurer.
- Bring the matter to court if needed.
Possible Compensation for Sexual Harassment
While every situation is unique, a harassment victim could potentially recover the following:
- Out-of-pocket expenses, including litigation costs and lawyer fees.
- Compensation for mental and psychological distress.
- Coverage for medical expenses and lost wages related to the sexual harassment or assault.
- Job reinstatement, restoration of job benefits or promotion, employer policy changes, increased workplace safety, and security.
How can Employers Reduce Sexual Harassment Among Hotel Workers?
It is the responsibility of every hotel employer to protect workers from sexual harassment by guests, employees, supervisors, and others. Employers should do the following:
- Have a solid zero-tolerance policy against all forms of unlawful harassment with consequences for noncompliance.
- Develop and communicate a straightforward, easy, and safe procedure for employees to report sexual harassment.
- Ensure that all employees understand the policy and how to file a complaint.
- Train managers and supervisors on how to both spot and stop sexual harassment in their areas of responsibility.
- Expect management to model and promote respectful behaviors among employees.
- Handle any harassment complaint swiftly, no matter how the employee reported it. Take each complaint seriously.
- Arm hotel employees with security devices, such as panic buttons, phones equipped with emergency dialing, hallway emergency phones, and other technology.
- Train hotel employees in how to safely conduct their jobs and interact with guests.
- Have a check-in system for every shift. Make sure that employees are safe at all times by visually checking on them as often as possible. Consider having employees work in pairs or proximity.
- Make necessary policy, procedure, and training changes. Employees deserve to work in a safe and secure environment where they are not afraid to come to work or do their job.
Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Advocate for Hotel Workers Who Frequently Experience Sexual Harassment
No employee should be afraid to do their job, including hotel workers. The Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. help hotel workers exposed to sexual harassment. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Based in Pennsauken, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.