Now that panic buttons or electronic safety devices (ESDs) have hit the scene, they’re shifting the legal landscape in terms of what are considered reasonable steps to ensure the safety of housekeeping teams and what may be deemed as negligence.

While some hotels may be skeptical about the need for ESDs, once a lawyer told me about a potentially catastrophic risk-management scenario, it instantly closed the matter in favour of adoption. The sequence of events illustrated was one where first an employee is assaulted while on the floor and evidence is found that management did not implement a panic-button solution, legislated or not. The media then gets hold of the story and permanently smears the brand’s name across the internet.

The argument for negligence stems from the general industry awareness of new legislation in several U.S. jurisdictions, as well as the current prevalence of vendors for these devices. It’s therefore reasonably expected, in the eyes of the law, that a hotel should be fully capable of providing some form of tech-based security measure to mitigate harm to its employees.

While my legalese may not be perfect, the bottom line is nowadays there’s enough awareness and ease of access to solutions that a new duty-of-care has arguably been established, thus not acting represents a breach of that responsibility. And, given statistics on harassment rates for hotel employees, it’s not so much a matter of ‘if’ you must face these situations, but ‘when.’

Since the start of the #MeToo movement, housekeepers and other team members operating in vulnerable positions are more willing to speak openly about workplace misconduct, while at the same time, reporters are eager for more clickbait stories about ‘corporate coverups’ and ‘big-business negligence.’ And all it takes is one bad story in the news to cause huge monetary ramifications that last more than a decade.

Critically, the news cycle is written in permanent ink; once it breaks that your hotel was negligent in protecting employees from harm, the damage can be irreversible, regardless of any subsequent retractions or defamation lawsuits. Guests won’t want to stay with you and it’ll be harder to attract new candidates due to your freshly accrued odious stigma.

In addition to the doom and gloom of potentially losing millions in revenue over the long term, implementing these wearable safety devices has had some surprising benefits that are worth sharing firsthand. Specifically, room attendants love them for precisely the reason they’ve been mandated — the buttons make them feel secure and recognized as individuals.

This subtle sense of team empowerment has had a noticeable positive effect on morale and employee retention, thereby indirectly helping resolve properties’ staffing problems. So, while the negative fallout may not motivate you, the potential for generating a happier workplace certainly should.

Larry Mogelonsky is the principal of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice. You can reach him at [email protected]


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