On October 2, 2017, the Chicago City Council Committee on Workplace Development and Audit approved an amendment to the Municipal Code (the “Ordinance”) that, if approved by the full City Council, will require hotel employers to equip hotel employees assigned to work in guestrooms or restrooms with portable emergency contact devices and develop and implement new anti-sexual harassment policies and procedures. The Ordinance is in response to multiple reports of sexual assault and harassment targeted at hotel employees by hotel guests.
The Ordinance in its current form will require hotel employers to (1) equip employees who are assigned to work in a guest room or restroom, under circumstances where no other employee is present in the room, with a panic button (at no cost to the employee) which the employee may use to summon help from other hotel staff if s/he reasonably believes that an ongoing crime, sexual harassment, sexual assault or other emergency is occurring in the employee’s presence; (2) develop, maintain and comply with a written anti-sexual harassment policy to protect employees against sexual assault and sexual harassment by guests; and (3) provide all employees with a current copy of the hotel’s anti-sexual harassment policy, and post the policy in conspicuous places in areas of the hotel where employees can reasonably be expected to see it.
With respect to the anti-sexual harassment policy mandates, employers must develop a policy that:
- Encourages employees to immediately report to the employer instances of alleged sexual assault and sexual harassment by guests;
- Describes the procedures that the complaining employee and employer shall follow in such cases;
- Affords the complaining employee the right to cease work and leave the immediate area where danger is perceived until such time that hotel security or the police arrive to provide assistance;
- Affords the complaining employee the right, during the duration of the offending guest’s stay at the hotel, to be assigned to work on a different floor or at a different station or work area away from the offending guest;
- Provides the complaining employee with sufficient paid time to (a) file a complaint with the police against the offending guest, and (b) testify as a witness at any legal proceeding that may ensue as a result of such complaint;
- Informs the employee that the Illinois Human Rights Act and Chicago Human Rights Ordinance provide additional protections against sexual harassment in the workplace; and
- Informs the employee that it is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against any employee who reasonably uses a panic button or exercises any right under the Ordinance.
Employers in violation of the Ordinance would be subject to a fine between $250-$500 for each offense, and each day that a violation continues constitutes a separate and distinct offense.
Consequently, it is critical that Chicago hotel employers monitor the status of this Ordinance, which is now pending before the full City Council. If passed and signed into law, the Ordinance will take effect within 90 days of signature. Employers should consider preparations for providing panic buttons to those employees protected by the Ordinance and training hotel employees on their use, and revisiting anti-sexual harassment policies, whether stand-alone or included in employee handbooks, to ensure compliance with the Ordinance’s mandates. Additionally, employers should consider providing updated anti-sexual harassment and anti-retaliation training to all employees, including those who are assigned to work in guest rooms or restrooms, to ensure that all employees fully understand their employer’s policies and procedures.