How hotel staff can guard against sexual harassment at work
Harassment is a concern for many hotel employees, especially those in housekeeping and other roles that often require them to work alone and in guestrooms. In fact, according to a Washington Post article detailing the sexual abuse of a hotel maid during the presidential inauguration in D.C. this year, “such incidents are all too common in an industry where about half of employees say they have been sexually assaulted or harassed by a guest, union surveys have shown.” They add that many of these abused go unreported as staff fear losing their jobs.
Last year, Seattle passed an initiative mandating that hotels give housekeepers panic buttons and that they track guests who harass employees. Chicago is also considering an ordinance that would mandate panic buttons for hotel housekeepers. New York has also taken up similar precautions, especially for housekeeping staff.
Harassment can happen to anyone, and there is no sure-fire way to prevent it. However, there are some safety tips that can help you avoid threatening situations. It’s also important to report any harassment that you’ve experienced or witnessed, so that abusive guests don’t feel they can target employees without repercussions.
1. Know your hotel’s safety procedures
Make sure you know the layout of your hotel, including exits. If your employer does not provide panic buttons, find out where you are able to call security. Know the names of the managers whom you would report to if a guest harasses you. Having this information ahead of time will make you feel more confident interacting with guests because you’ll know where to go and what to do if a guest behaves inappropriately.
2. Know your surroundings
Before entering a guest’s room, knock and announce that you are there. Don’t automatically assume the room is empty; glance around the room, and check that no one is in the bathroom or behind a closet door. Surveying your surroundings prevents guests from surprising you and may ward off potential harassers who would like to sneak up on a victim.
3. Be assertive
While there is no behavior that will always prevent harassment, someone who appears uncertain and afraid is an easier target than someone who is confident and assertive. Stand up straight, and make eye contact with a guest who is speaking to you or walking toward you. If a guest uses sexually explicit language or tries to touch you, firmly tell him to stop.
4. Leave unsafe situations
The usual focus of hospitality is to make guests happy and give them what they want, but if a guest is harassing or threatening you, your safety must take priority. If you feel unsafe, leave the room, even if you haven’t completed your work or the guest is still talking to you. Don’t return to the room before security addresses the situation.
5. Report harassment
People may feel reluctant to report harassment because they believe it won’t deter the harasser or because they don’t want to talk about a painful experience. Those are valid concerns, but it’s necessary to report harassment so that hotels can ban abusive guests from their properties; for serious incidents like assault, you should call the police and press charges. Reporting abuse sends a message to all would-be abusive guests that their actions won’t be tolerated.
6. Write down the details of an incident
A report of abuse is more likely to be taken seriously if it’s detailed and consistent, so you should write down the details of an incident immediately after it occurs. Note down the room where the harassment took place, the time, what the guest said or did and how you responded. Also write down the names of any other employees who saw what happened so they can confirm your report.