Washington State Legislators Debate Panic Buttons for Hotel Workers

Seattle's Hotel Sorrento
Seattle's Hotel Sorrento

In the Washington State Legislature, Senate Bill 5258 was heard in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee on Jan. 21; the bill aims to prevent sexual harassment and assault of isolated workers (such as hotel housekeepers) through training and making resources available to employees, and also by providing panic buttons to workers who spend a majority of their working hours "alongside two or fewer coworkers at a location that is not her or his home."

The similar Initiative 124 was passed in 2016 by 77 percent of voters on a Seattle ballot measure, but the ordinance covered panic buttons while also requiring hotels to keep lists of guests who had been accused of assaulting or harassing workers; it also required properties to go a step further and ban such guests under certain circumstances. That bill was struck down by Washington's Court of Appeals in December, saying it violated a rule that ballot initiatives could only cover one subject.
 
While I-124 covered just Seattle, the new bill would be statewide, making Washington one of the first states with expanded protections for all types of employees who work in an isolated situation.
 
The safety of housekeepers and other such isolated hospitality workers has become a priority for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, which last September announced the "5-Star Promise," a pledge to provide hotel employees across the U.S. with employee safety devices by 2020, and to commit to enhanced policies, training and resources aimed at enhancing hotel safety, including preventing and responding to sexual harassment and assault. The CEOs of Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Wyndham were on hand when Katherine Lugar, then president and CEO of the AHLA, introduced the 5-Star Promise.
 
Representing the Seattle Hotel Association, Shannon Sheron, managing director of the Hotel Sorrento and president of the SHA, also testified in support of the Senate Bill 5258: "Many of our hotels have had [panic buttons] in place for years and will continue to do so, as part of our vigorous commitment to employee safety. We are proud to support this bill."
 
Senate Bill 5258 will need to pass out of committee and continue through in order to follow the process of becoming law.