Following the launch of the American Hotel & Lodging
Association's (AHLA) 5-Star Promise initiative, hospitality workers across the
country are about to benefit from a large-scale deployment of "employee
safety devices," popularly known as panic buttons.
The AH&LA unveiled the 5-Star Promise at a media event in
Washington earlier this month in partnership with a consortium of leading hotel
brands. Focused on preventing sexual harassment and assault, the workplace
safety platform is promoting "broad implementation" of panic buttons,
among other measures, by 2020.
Marriott International, InterContinental Hotels Group,
Hilton, AccorHotels and Hyatt are among the many major hospitality players that
have committed to the 5-Star Promise and plan to build on their existing
protocols before the 2020 target.
Marriott announced that panic buttons would be made a brand
standard across managed and franchised hotels throughout the U.S. and Canada,
while both IHG and Hilton have pledged to have devices available at all their
managed U.S. properties.
Concurrently, AccorHotels detailed plans to provide them to
all employees who enter guestrooms and restrooms unaccompanied. The devices can
vary in functionality, ranging from loud noise-emitting features to emergency
Hyatt, meanwhile, began introducing panic buttons for
employees at all managed, full-service properties within the Americas region
last fall. The company, which has largely opted for buttons that emit a "shrieking"
noise and are similar in appearance to a key fob, said that the devices are now
available for more than 4,500 room attendants across 120 properties. Hyatt,
too, plans to eventually make the buttons a brand standard.
The AH&LA's 5-Star Promise comes as hotel employee panic
buttons have become commonplace -- in some cases, even legally mandated -- in a
growing number of U.S. cities. In New York and Las Vegas, for example, hotel
unions have made the devices a key issue in contract negotiations, resulting in
the widespread implementation of panic buttons in both markets.
"We started a campaign for negotiating contracts for
workers earlier this year, and now we have around 48,000 workers with contracts
that feature sexual harassment safety language, which includes WiFi-enabled safety
buttons," said Bethany Khan, director of communications and digital
strategy for Las Vegas' Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which represents the
city's hotel and casino workers.
"We've heard many stories from hotel workers, and they've
expressed it's important for the buttons to be wearable and have WiFi,"
Khan said. "A static button in the room is not an option; it's in one
place, and you have to get to it, which can be challenging in emergency
Additionally, Las Vegas panic buttons cannot be used to spy
on workers or collect data, Khan said, and their rollout has also forced
properties to improve their WiFi connectivity and ensure their properties don't
have "dead zones." The Las Vegas union contracts went into effect on
In 2016, Seattle became the first U.S. city to pass a panic
button ordinance. Known as the Hotel Employees Health and Safety Initiative,
the union-backed measure requires Seattle hotels to offer the devices to
Abby Lawlor, a researcher for Seattle-based hospitality
union Unite Here Local 8, said that the ordinance "came about because we
really needed to address some of the stark differences in safety and health
that we were seeing between union and nonunion hotels in the city."
According to a 2016 Unite Here Local 8 survey of nearly 100
Seattle hotel housekeepers, roughly 53% reported a total of 262 incidents of
sexual harassment by guests.
Lawlor said that the Hotel Employees Health and Safety
Initiative, which also includes provisions addressing unsafe workloads,
affordable healthcare and job security, faced significant industry pushback
following its passage.
The AH&LA, Seattle Hotel Association and Washington
Hospitality Association filed a lawsuit against the city in December 2016,
alleging that the ordinance's protections were "either duplicative of or
in conflict with existing federal and state law."
While that claim was eventually thrown out by a King County
Superior Court judge in 2017, Lawlor said the AHLA is "still pursuing
litigation in Seattle to try and overturn the law."
The AH&LA is primarily opposed to provisions in the Seattle
ordinance that say hotels must "decline service to a guest who is accused
of assault, sexual assault or sexual harassment for three years (if the
accusation is supported by evidence or sworn statement)" and "maintain
a list of reported guests for five years."
"While the Seattle initiative was passed under the
guise of employee safety, it included several regulations that had nothing to
do with safety," the AHLA said in an email. "The law violates the due
process rights of our guests and places hotel employees in the role of law
enforcement without proper training."
Other cities have also introduced ordinances focused on
panic button implementation, with Chicago and Miami Beach recently passing
their own laws. A similar ordinance is on the ballot on Nov. 6 in Long Beach,
The panic buttons have helped improve safety for people like
Seattle's Nuris Deras, a hospitality worker and victim of workplace sexual
"In my case, there was an incident where I knocked on
the door, the guest didn't answer, and when I got in the room, he was
completely naked. We put ourselves at risk every time we knock on a door and no
one answers," said Deras, who has worked as a hotel housekeeper for two
and a half years. "The devices have been a really good thing for us and
have made us feel safer at work. I really hope that housekeepers everywhere can
have the same protection under this law that we have here in Seattle."