THE MAGAZINE

How Can the Hospitality Industry Better Protect Housekeeping Staff?

By Richard G. Hudak

While the intent was to help service staff, there was initially strong opposition from the hotel workers unions, which argued against the closed-door policy in particular on several grounds.

They said that if the guest reported a personal item missing, the housekeepers would immediately be suspected of the loss because they were working behind closed doors out of sight of their supervisor. Housekeeping supervisors commented that they would not be able to properly supervise housekeepers by walking in on them unexpectedly to determine if they were providing adequate service or engaged in unauthorized behavior.

In addition, it was said that the housekeeper would be in increased jeopardy working behind closed doors if the guest were there or if the guest suddenly returned to the room. Moreover, housekeepers would not be able to monitor the cleaning carts or supplies on them to safeguard against theft but would be held accountable for “shrinkage.” Finally, it would take longer to clean the room due to the fact that the housekeeper would be continually opening the door to access the housekeeping cart to retrieve supplies.

During this period, major hotel chains installed expensive electronic lock systems on guest-room doors operated by magnetic-strip access cards that solved the metal key control issues that had previously plagued the lodging industry and had resulted in significant losses and liability issues. The electronic locks enabled hotel security to “interrogate” a lock, which means to pull up a record of who had entered at any time. Thus, if a guest reported a loss, the interrogation could identify the cardkey used to enter the room, along with the time and date of the entry. The advent of electronic locks was, and still is, a major factor in minimizing theft and rebutting fraudulent claims.

The introduction of these types of locks changed the dynamics of hotel security and reinforced the need for closed doors, even during housekeeping. In initial meetings following the hotel management decision to introduce the closed-door policy, hotel security directors made this point to directors of housekeeping. They noted that by blocking guest room doors open, the interrogation feature of the new locking systems was being nullified.

Security directors explained that by documenting what access card opened the guest room door, and the exact time the door was opened, most claims of stolen property and suspicions of “theft by housekeeper” could be refuted. When guests who made accusations were given the printout showing whose cardkey had unlocked the door, they frequently withdrew their claims of stolen property and would refuse to make official police reports alleging theft.

Housekeeping managers and supervisors were further told that catching housekeepers by walking in was counterproductive, and that interrogation of locks with the new closed door procedure actually improved productivity.

Hotel security also noted that under the new closed-door policy, housekeepers should never be in a guest room when the guest remained inside. Moreover, housekeepers working under the closed-door policy should not respond to requests to open the door. They should require both guests and other employees to access the room using their assigned keycards, creating an audit trail, and ensuring that the person had the authority to enter the room.

The only time that the housekeeper should continue to service the room with the guest present was if another hotel employee was present. However, it was never appropriate for the guest door to be closed when two hotel employees were inside the guest room providing service.

Signs were provided to housekeeping that read: “Hotel staff is currently servicing this room. Doors are closed for better protection. Guests are requested to use keycards for entry.” Housekeepers were also trained to report any aggressive behavior to their supervisor or to hotel security.

In addition, time and motion studies were conducted documenting that housekeepers, following training, could manage cleaning supplies adequately under the closed door policy with minimum inconvenience. Housekeeping carts were redesigned to reduce the opportunity for casual losses when they were unattended.
 

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