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Hotel housekeepers at high risk of sexual harassment from guests

Hotel housekeepers in California usually enter rooms alone as they perform their cleaning duties. Unfortunately, this private environment often exposes them to assaults by guests. A survey conducted by the labor union Unite Here found that 53 percent of its members in Chicago and Seattle had experienced sexual harassment on the job.

Harassment took various forms, including physical intimidation, cornering, groping, solicitations for sex and guests walking around naked. A handful of major cities have passed laws that require employers to supply hotel workers with panic buttons so that they can summon security when threatened. A union for hotel workers in one city has included panic buttons in union contracts since 2013.

The hospitality industry, however, sometimes opposes these security measures. A lawsuit filed by the American Hotel & Lodging Association challenged a panic button ordinance passed in one city. Court filings put forward the argument that the law also had overtime pay provisions and the potential to blacklist hotel guests based on worker accusations of assault. Hotels also dislike the cost of providing security technology to their employees.

A president of a chapter of Unite Here emphasized the vulnerability of housekeepers due to the socioeconomic power imbalance between workers and guests. She said that housekeepers are overwhelmingly female and low income and have to interact with more affluent guests.

A person confronted by sexual harassment at work could talk to an attorney about what to do. Legal counsel could evaluate evidence about lewd comments, unwelcome sexual advances and retaliation after complaining to an employer about sexual harassment. To pursue a settlement, an attorney could prepare a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and manage litigation that might be necessary to hold the responsible party accountable.

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