COVID-19 has created two pandemics. The virus and its growing number of mutations, which we are all way too familiar with, and a "Shadow Pandemic" of violence and intolerance, largely against service workers with in-flight incidents getting the most press.
By itself, COVID has created incredible challenges for hoteliers trying to meet their duty of care to their guests and employees while trying to maintain the spirit of hospitality for which the industry is known (hence the name, Hospitality Industry).
Owners and managers have had to implement new safety and sanitation protocols, guided at least in part by the leadership of AHLA and their creation of the Safe Stay® initiative and/or the similar standards developed and adopted by the various hotel brand leaders. All at significant additional costs in materials and labor, and all to not only keep guests and staff safe, but also to reassure travelers that it is safe to travel. The ups and downs of new variants whose names read like that frat in Animal House and “the great resignation” have added to the on-going challenges we face as an industry, and now, add The Shadow Pandemic – the rage against service workers fueled by mandates and restrictions.
It has become so prevalent that the CDC has recommended Employee Safety Devices, aka panic buttons for service-based workers.
But alas, while the press coverage is more ‘robust’, and perhaps due to worker shortages and wage increases - this is not a new problem for hotels. We’ve known about it for several years, it’s just recently that it’s been taken out of the shadows – perhaps due to #MeToo, or because 58% of surveyed housekeepers indicated they had at least one unwanted encounter with a guest in the preceding 12 months. This has led to many cities and states mandating panic buttons and having them become new standards in union labor agreements.
A credit to our industry once again, AHLA, partnering with the leaders of our largest brands and management companies stepped-up, not waiting for laws to be passed, and initiated the AHLA 5-Star promise, which, among other things, commits to Employee Safety Devices for all workers who might be exposed to guest initiated sexual harassment or violence. Originally with a goal to have all participating hotels equipped by the beginning of 2021, the pandemic has taken its toll and deadlines have been reset to the end of 2022.
Things to Consider for Implementing Employee Safety Solutions in 2022
I’m not a lawyer, and this is not intended as legal advice, but I suspect that with more than a dozen laws and almost 5 dozen leading hotel companies recognizing the issue and implementing mitigation practices, your lawyer will tell you that the occurrence of an incident is “reasonably foreseeable” and therefore, if you do not at least comply with industry standards, a jury will likely consider you negligent, raising damage awards significantly in the event of an incident and follow-on law suit.
The good news is that the implementation of the industry standard – an Employee Safety Solution – is often less expensive than the legal fees just for responding to a complaint. Add potential savings in reduced turnover and workers’ comp claims and these systems are an investment, not an expense.
As one would expect in a market fueled by laws and brand mandates, choices for solutions are popping up all over the place. Be careful in your selection. What ‘sounds good’ because it's inexpensive or promises multiple things may not be the best solution to this problem.
For instance, high-decibel personal alarms (a.k.a ‘screamers’) work great walking across a parking lot, but are totally inappropriate in an enclosed structure and, in fact do not comply with most laws or standards. Two-way radios and the like sound good because the employee can state the problem, and they can be used for other things, but, unless spoken, do not give precise location information, and in many cases may escalate the confrontation rather than diminish it.
If you find yourself having to enter an occupied guest room, I suspect you have a better show of probable cause and/or exigent circumstances if you have a system that reports precise locations rather than “it came from around here, somewhere.”
Develop standard operating procedures for handling incidents and alarms (with counsel and loss prevention), ensure they are followed by staff, including new hires, and there are frequent reminders in place to reinforce training.
And finally, with about 2 million rooms coming into the compliance window and the issues surrounding supply chain, do not wait to make your decision as there will be more demand than supply in the second half of 2022, and there are simply not even vendors to outfit the number of hotels that will require an implementation.
Unfortunately, the Shadow Pandemic is serious business and will not go away when we get COVID-19 under control. Consult your life safety/loss prevention and legal resources and develop a plan of action. I’d be happy to help as well.