THE MAGAZINE

How Can the Hospitality Industry Better Protect Housekeeping Staff?

By Richard G. Hudak

Gradually, through perseverance and persuasion, hotel security directors convinced most directors of housekeeping that the new housekeeping security policy was in their best interests and was required to protect their associates from harm. Over the years, the closed-door housekeeping policy and related procedures have reduced assaults on housekeeping employees and have helped to minimize thefts from hotel guest rooms.

That was then. Fast forward to today and one finds that the closed-door policy is not as widely followed as it needs to be. Additionally, it cannot solve all the problems, especially if the problem is not an interloper but a guest who had the authority to be in the room.

While the alleged Dominique Strauss-Kahn incident in Manhattan never went to a criminal trial, the case spotlights the risks housekeepers face. To address them, a legislative proposal referred to as the “Sexual Abuse Bill” (S.B. 5606) has been introduced in the New York State Assembly. It would require hotel and motel owners to provide sexual harassment training to employees and to develop programs to facilitate reporting of harassment. Hotel owners would be required to provide a “know your rights” brochure to all employees detailing state and federal laws on sexual harassment. The bill would make it illegal to retaliate against employees who report sexual harassment.

Directors of corporate security for the major hotel organizations who were contacted for this article expressed skepticism regarding the effectiveness of such a statute should it pass.

Corporate security directors say that they are evaluating several other security options. However, each has its pros and cons.

For example, they are exploring the benefits of equipping housekeepers with security pendants, or panic buttons, which may be used to alert hotel security of an emergency. But implementation of such a policy would not be easy. Challenges include ensuring that all pendants were properly assigned and returned after each shift, that the pendant signal could be received throughout the hotel, that the pendant battery was fully charged and functional for each shift, that there would be adequate security response available should the pendant be activated, and that there would be a fair and cost-effective policy for replacing lost pendants.

Another policy being considered is assigning small two-way radios to housekeepers servicing remote floors or rooms. The purchase of radios can result in significant expense, however. Security directors I spoke with noted that batteries for the radios must be recharged or replaced. Also, radios must be kept at hand if they are to be useful in an emergency, and that raises questions about where the radios could be located when the housekeeper was making a bed or cleaning the bathroom. As with the panic buttons, there is also the issue of communications being able to get through; it would have to be possible for radio signals to be received throughout the hotel.

A third policy under consideration is that of teaming male and female housekeepers to service rooms. But that creates its own set of risks and doubles the cost of housecleaning. To minimize the risk, a male and female housekeeping team would be told not to work behind closed doors in a guest room. But the cost issue would not be so easy to overcome. And there would also be personality issues requiring constant management.
 

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