Hotel workers in New Jersey will soon have new protections at their jobs. On June 11, 2019, Gov. Murphy signed the panic button bill into law. This law will mandate the installation of panic buttons in hotels that employees can use when they are being threatened with sexual assault or other dangers. To learn more about the panic button bill, talk to the attorneys at Swartz Swidler.
What is the Panic Button Bill?
New Jersey Senate Bill 2986 was introduced in Sept. 2018 by two state senators. The bill was proposed to protect workers at hotels from dangerous events and sexual assaults at their jobs. The bill recognizes that hotel workers who have to work in hotel rooms are at a greater risk of being assaulted. In 2018, for example, a housekeeper in Atlantic City at Billy’s Casino was sexually assaulted by a hotel guest while she was cleaning a room.
The panic button law covers hotels and other establishments that have 25 or more rooms for guests. These establishments will be required to give panic buttons to every hotel employee whose job requires him or her to work alone to perform room service duties or housekeeping services in guest rooms. The hotels cannot charge the employees for the devices. The device must be an electronic device or two-way radio that the employees can keep on their persons to quickly summon help from a member of the hotel staff.
The hotel employees can use the devices when they believe that a crime is occurring or that they are facing an immediate threat of sexual harassment or assault. While the employees are waiting for help to arrive, they can stop working and leave the area where they are facing danger. Under the law, employees who do leave the area after requesting help when they have a reasonable belief of ongoing crime or threats of assault will not face adverse job actions.
Obligations of the employers
Employers have several obligations under the law. In addition to providing the devices to their employees at no cost, they must promptly respond to the location of an employee who calls for help. Once the panic device is used, the hotel is required to keep a record of the accusation and the name of an accused guest for five years. The hotel must also report incidents to law enforcement officers and cooperate with a resulting investigation. The employee must be reassigned to a location away from the room of the accused guest. Others who are subsequently assigned to the room can do so with a partner or refuse to service it for the duration of the accused guest’s stay.
When a guest is convicted in criminal court for an incident that prompted the use of the panic device, the hotel must refuse that guest occupancy for a minimum of three years from the incident’s date. Hotels must also educate their workers about how to use the device and the rights that they have if they use them. Hotels must also notify guests about the panic devices. They can either require the guests to acknowledge the policy when they check into the hotel or by displaying a prominent notice on the inside of the guest room doors that explains the panic device policy in detail.
The law also applies to other workers in addition to employees. This is important because many hotels contract out their housekeeping services. The hotels would still be responsible for providing panic devices to housekeeping staff members that work as contractors, and the hotels’ other obligations would still apply.
The bill’s anti-retaliation provision prohibits hotels from retaliating against employees who use the panic devices. It also protects other employees who refuse to service the accused guest’s room for the remainder of his or her stay. The bill will be effective on Jan. 1, 2020. Employers who do not comply with the new law will face fines of $10,000 for every violation.
While several cities, including Chicago and Seattle, have passed panic button bills, New Jersey is the first state to enact a statewide provision. A similar bill in California failed to make it out of committee. Similar bills are being considered in several cities across the nation.
Importance of the Panic Button Bill
This law recognizes that hotel housekeeping staff members are forced to work alone in hotel guest rooms and are at a heightened risk of being the victims of crimes and sexual assaults because of their jobs. The anti-retaliation provision is also important because hotel workers may be afraid to come forward out of a fear of losing their jobs.
Get help from Swartz Swidler
If you are a hotel worker who has been sexually harassed or assaulted at your job, you may have legal rights to recover compensation. Contact Swartz Swidler to learn more about your potential claim by filling out our online contact form.