California lawmaker proposes requiring panic buttons for hotel workers in response to widespread sexual harassment

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Alarmed by a survey indicating sexual harassment of hotel housekeepers is widespread, a California state lawmaker on Tuesday proposed requiring employers to provide “panic button” devices to their employees so they can summon help if abused by a guest.

The bill to be introduced Wednesday by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) would also require individual hotels to impose a three-year ban on guests who engage in harassment on the property.

“We want to protect our most vulnerable women  workers, hotel maids who are going into rooms alone, from sexual harassment,” said Muratsuchi, who co-authored the bill with Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward).

The legislation signals that concerns over sexual harassment that dominated the state Legislature last year will continue to be an issue for lawmakers as they begin the new legislative year Wednesday.

Harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, comedian Louis C.K. and other high-profile men have involved sexual misconduct in hotel rooms.

A survey in July by Unite Here Local 1 found that 49% of female hotel workers in Chicago had experienced a guest answering the door naked or exposing himself. The report titled “Hands Off, Pants On,” found 58% of hotel workers said they had been sexually harassed by a guest.

California’s Unite Here Local 11 has been calling for the action proposed in the legislation.

“It is the intent of this measure to protect hotel employees from violent assault, including sexual assault, and sexual harassment, and to enable those employees to speak out when they experience harassment on the job,” said the introduction to the legislation introduced by Muratsuchi.

In addition to requiring hotels to provide panic buttons to employees who work alone in rooms, the bill requires hotels to take written complaints from employees and keep them for five years. Any complaint backed by evidence including a statement given under penalty of perjury would result in a guest being banned from a hotel for three years.

Hotels would also be required to post a notice on the inside of hotel room doors warning guests about the consequences of sexual harassment.