By Mary Kate McGrath - May 19, 2021
Restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality spaces are hubs of unpredictable activity. Due to the social nature of the sector, the industry is very vulnerable to workplace violence. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. OSHA estimates that, each year, about 2 million workers report violent workplace incidents.
Titled Senate Bill 5258, new Washington legislation would require every hospitality employer enact a sexual harassment policy, provide mandatory sexual harassment prevention training to all employees, and provide a list of all employees and provide a panic button app to each isolated worker. (Isolated workers might include traveling employees.) Senate Bill 5258 was introduced following the Washington State Court of Appeals decision to block Seattle Initiative Measure 124, which offered broader protections.
The Washington Hospitality Association (WHA) voiced its approval for the new bill and its protections. “I think this legislation will help hundreds of employees in the hospitality industry avoid sexual harassment,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, Senator Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines. “Having the Washington Hospitality Association as an active partner helped to make it a better bill.”
Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association also voiced approval “Employee health, safety and security is a top priority,” said Anton. “We prioritized this statewide legislation this year as part of our commitment to our employees.”
Senate Bill 5258 in Washington State is just one piece of legislature looking to mitigate workplace violence risks for hospitality workers. OSHA recommends that employers have emergency action plans. Putting together a comprehensive emergency action plan that deals with all types of issues specific to your worksite can help prepare hospitality businesses for the worst.
“Hospitality industry unions that represent hotel workers have been advocating for employee safety rules in hotels, such as harassment training for all classifications of employees, more streamlined and available reporting options for employees and even panic buttons in hotel rooms as some unions have demanded in their labor agreements,” said Marta M. Fernandez, partner/chair/labor & employment department, Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP (JMBM).
Workplace violence in hospitality settings is caused by complex systemic factors - the social nature of the work, which deals with patients with individuals from many different backgrounds, facilities in underserved areas or rural regions lacking in rehabilitation treatments or specialists, and understaffing in general. But for the hospitality industry, an inability to connect with emergency services during a workplace violence incident can be easily fixed. A crisis communication platform is a powerful tool in the hands of hospitality workers.
The Rave Platform provides a “panic button” option to isolated employees, allowing them to reach out to security or local law enforcement for assistance during an emergency. It also ensures employees never travel alone on campus, allowing traveling or isolated workers to set a timer and designate a virtual escort. If the employee does not arrive at their designated location within the set amount of time, security or local law enforcement will be immediately informed. Even more critical, first responders will receive location data, allowing them to immediately identify, find, and respond to the emergency situation.
Two-way discreet and anonymous chats can help further prevent dangerous situations. With employee-initiated texting, they can contact any department, and administrators will see an increase in reported incidents. Governments on the federal and state level are pushing for these resources to become commonplace in hospitality settings, but safety managers can explore these options ahead of those negotiations. Legislation may deem personal safety technology necessary for hospitality workers - but they don’t need to wait to implement these powerful tools.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.