The recent episode involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn in an alleged incident with a housekeeper at the Sofitel hotel in Manhattan has rekindled discussion regarding what the hospitality industry should do to better protect housekeeping and room service employees from on-the-job harassment or worse.
This is not the first time that the issue has come to the fore. A series of brutal attacks on housekeepers across the nation occurred in the mid-1990s, leading the American Hotel Lodging Association (AHLA) to call for higher levels of security to protect hotel employees.
At that time, research indicated that hotel security was being breached by criminals who dressed and acted like legitimate guests, allowing them to get past the front desk and access hotel elevators or stairwells without arousing suspicion. They walked guest floors looking for criminal opportunities, such as guest room doors left open while rooms were being cleaned.
While the housekeepers were cleaning showers and tubs, these criminals could enter unseen and make off with jewelry, purses, expensive clothing, and laptops. If the housekeeper saw them, they took advantage of the fact that staff were often foreign-born, with limited English language skills, and easily intimidated by someone they took to be a paying guest. The criminals aggressively confronted housekeepers, ordering them to leave so that they “could have privacy.”
In the worst-case scenarios, the housekeeper was trapped inside the room and victimized. During one year, eight housekeepers across the nation were assaulted, raped, or killed. The media, public, and hotel management demanded action.
The AHLA knew that higher levels of security were needed to protect hotel employees. But determining which best practices might make sense wasn’t easy. For example, training housekeepers to request that the person display and use the room cardkey was rarely effective. The perpetrator would verbally abuse the housekeeper until she left without verifying the person’s legitimate guest status.
The AHLA turned to its Security/Loss Prevention Committee, which is composed of hotel security directors, for answers. Several security options were discussed. Two were widely adopted.
First was the 60-second housekeeper security quick-check training. Under this program, staff were instructed to ensure that after a guest had officially checked out, the room was indeed vacant and safe to enter for servicing. Housekeepers were trained to confirm that all security equipment—locks, privacy latches, optical viewers, interconnecting room deadbolts, and especially the telephones—functioned normally.
Second was the closed-door housekeeping policy. Under this policy, housekeeping departments initiated new procedures directing staff to service guest rooms with the doors closed, rather than propped open as had been the practice in the past.