ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

This week, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) updated its ‘5-Star Promise’ to include yet more participating hotels and groups.  The commitment, outlined in this 14-page document, was formulated in response to growing public concern about sexual harassment, perhaps best highlighted by the global #MeToo movement.

The 5-Star Promise was first signed by 17 hotel companies last year, including Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, and IHG. By doing so, these companies were voluntarily committing to improving policies, training, and resources related to employee safety. Since then, an additional 39 companies have signed the pledge.

Alarm bells first started ringing in the summer of 2017, when Sandra Pezqueda, a worker at the Terranea Resort  just outside of Los Angeles filed a lawsuit against her employer, claiming she experienced repeated sexual harassment and assault by her supervisor who retaliated against her rejections by changing her work schedule.

“After you speak up, they try to look for reasons to complain about your work to make you feel bad about your work, when, before you reported, you were never scolded,” Pezqueda said. “Terranea claims to be there to help you when you report, but what happens to women is they make fun of you when you report or, what’s easier, they lay you off.”

Sandra Pezqueda

She was subsequently honoured in Time Magazine’s Person of the ear 2017 list for her courage to speak out. In May 2018, she was awarded a $250,000 settlement, and Terranea Resort was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Following the widespread coverage of Pezqueda’s story, others began to come forward. Leticia Vallejo, a housekeeper at a Marriott Hotel in Irvine, California, told police that in the summer of 2017 a drunk male guest groped her while she was cleaning the hotel lobby bathroom, offering her $50 as he did so.

Vallejo claimed, when she told one of her supervisors, she was met with laughter. Over her 18 years of work at the Marriott location, Vallejo said that she had witnessed men urinating in front of her, and was regularly subjected to inappropriate comments or advances, as were her female colleagues.

In response to stories like Pezqueda’s and Vallejo’s, the AHLA formed the 5-Star Promise. Since then, it was announced on Monday, more than 5,000 hotels and resorts in the USA have provided employees with safety devices and training aimed at tackling sexual harassment in the workplace.

“As an industry of people taking care of people, we have always been deeply committed to safety and security for our employees and guests. We have a responsibility to ensure they feel safe and secure,” Chip Rogers, the group’s president, said in a statement.

“I’m proud of the progress we have made as an industry over the past year, and we will continue our efforts to ensure America’s hotels are safe places for all those who work in and visit them.”

One method of ensuring hotel workers are safe involves providing them with safety devices or ‘panic buttons’. In July 2018, the city of Miami Beach in Florida passed legislation requiring hotels to provide housekeepers and room attendants with panic buttons by September 15 this year.

Though the language was vague, a clarification in August specified that devices provided must “effectively summon prompt assistance to the employee’s location by a hotel or hostel security officer.” Thus, noisemakers that simply blare a siren were not adequate – the employee’s physical location was required to be made visible by the device.

The states of Washington and New Jersey, as well as New York City, have followed Miami Beach’s lead and implemented similar legislation. Though AHLA did not specify this week which hotels had already given out safety devices to their employees, many hotel groups in the newly updated 5-Star Promise document outlined their progress on the issue.

Accor

Accor’s statement noted that “the safety and security of our employees has always been a top priority at Accor,” and pledged that “procedures and escalation protocols are in place to ensure our 25,000 employees are protected, trained, and encouraged to report any instances.” Accor provides mandatory training on corporate social responsibility and WATCH (We Act Together for Children), a training and reporting program to fight against the sexual exploitation of children.

Intercontinental Hotels Group

IHG, wrote that the company provides its managed US hotels with access to anti-harassment, anti-bullying, and human rights policies in multiple languages, as well as mandatory enhanced workplace harassment prevention training. “We have deployed enhanced personal safety devices and systems for employees at managed hotels in multiple markets such as Atlanta, New York, and Chicago, and are on track for full development, with multiple options for our franchisees, in all 3,7000+ IHG-branded hotels throughout the US by the end of 2020.”

Wyndham

Wyndham, the largest hotel chain in the world, noted it has rolled out mandatory anti-sexual harassment training to its managed team members and has made multiple training courses available as part of its regular onboarding and annual training curriculum for its franchises. “On track with our commitment, we expect to deploy safety devices to our managed team members and to make safety device options to our franchise community in the third quarter of 2019, reflecting our sustained commitment to employee training and safety.”