By Robert T. Szyba, Gena B. Usenheimer, and Ryan B. Schneider

Seyfarth Synopsis: On December 3, 2018, the New Jersey Senate Labor Committee unanimously advanced a bill that would require covered hotels to provide “panic devices” to certain employees. New Jersey joins the increasing number of jurisdictions considering or enacting this form of anti-sexual harassment legislation.

Background

In September, two state New Jersey state senators introduced S2896 in an effort to protect “hotel employees from sexual assault and other dangerous working conditions.” As amended by the New Jersey Senate Labor Committee, the bill is now before the full Senate for consideration. Notably, the New Jersey bill would impose requirements similar to those found in the recently enacted Seattle and Chicago hotel panic button mandates. (For more information on the Chicago mandate, please see our previous post here.)

Here are some of the highlights from the New Jersey bill:

  • Covered Hotels: The mandate would apply to hotels and similar establishments that contain 25 or more guest rooms.
  • Obligation to Provide a Panic Device: Covered hotels would be required to provide a “panic device” to each hotel employee who, without others, performs housekeeping or room service duties in guest rooms, at no cost to the employee.
    • Panic Device: The bill defines “panic device” as a two-way radio or other electronic device that can be kept on the employee’s person and used to summon immediate on scene assistance from an appropriate hotel staff member. Other mandates under consideration or in effect contemplate the use of a “button.”
  • Employee’s Use: Under the proposal, an employee may use the device when the employee “reasonably believes” that there is an ongoing crime, immediate threat of assault or harassment, or other emergency in the employee’s presence. While awaiting assistance, the employee may stop work and leave the area of perceived danger. An employee who does so would be protected from adverse employment action by the bill’s anti-retaliation provision.
  • Employer Obligations: Beyond promptly responding to the employee’s location, once the device is triggered, covered hotels’ obligations include keeping records of accusations and a list of accused guests for five years, reporting any incident to appropriate law enforcement and cooperating with any investigation, and immediately reassigning the aggrieved employee to an area away from the accused guest’s room, while providing others the option to service the room with a partner or not service the room, for the remainder of the guest’s stay.
    • Guest Conviction: In the event that an accused guest is criminally convicted in connection with an incident brought to the hotel’s attention, the bill would require covered hotels to refuse occupancy for at least three years from the date of the incident.
  • Notice to Employees: The bill would require covered hotels to educate employees about use of the panic device and their rights should they do so and to encourage employees to use the device when appropriate.
  • Notice to Guests: Covered hotels would be required to notify guests of the panic devices by either requiring acknowledgement of the policy upon check in or prominently displaying a sign on the interior side of guest room doors detailing the panic device policy.

New Jersey’s Requirements Compared To Other Jurisdictions

The New Jersey bill contains notable differences as compared to other mandates now in effect. For example, the Chicago ordinance applies to hotels accommodating seven or more guests. Moreover, that ordinance requires a detailed written anti-sexual harassment policy providing aggrieved employees with, among other things, paid time off for certain reasons relating to guest misconduct, and that posters be displayed in multiple languages in areas where employees can reasonably be expected to see them. Chicago also does not provide circumstances under which an accused guest must be denied occupancy. Like Chicago’s ordinance, Seattle’s also allows paid time off to aggrieved employees.

Further unlike New Jersey, where an aggrieved employee alleges assault or sexual misconduct under penalty of perjury, covered hotels in Seattle are prohibited from allowing the accused guest to return for at least three years from the incident (i.e., whether or not the guest is convicted of a crime). Another key distinction is that Seattle hotels need only report allegations of guest misconduct and cooperate in investigations if consented to by the employee. Additionally, non-complaining employees assigned to an accused guest’s room need only be warned of the accused’s presence and advised to proceed with caution.

More generally similar measures have passed or are under consideration in Miami Beach, FL, Long Beach, CA and Oakland, CA. Notably, a California statewide mandate failed in committee, in part due to complaints of expansive employee accommodations. Nevertheless, some hotels have considered implementing panic device systems regardless of legal obligation.

Employer Takeaways

While questions about the burden and expense of compliance and the general panic device landscape may be answered over time, it is clear that this type of legislation has become a hot topic among state and local legislatures. The amended bill now before the New Jersey Senate will likely go through another round of committee review and possible amendments before the full Senate votes on the bill. The original bill was also introduced in the New Jersey Assembly in September, but remains pending in committee. As such, questions about the substance and general fate of the New Jersey mandate remain outstanding.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Policies and Handbooks Team.

By: Johanna T. Wise and Andrew J. Masak

While most of the political pundits, and indeed the country, are busy analyzing the election results, four new localities passed paid sick leave laws.  As we previously blogged, the current landscape of paid sick leave laws is a patchwork of varying regulations, causing headaches for many employers.  And compliance isn’t getting any easier as the number of states and cities with paid sick leave laws rises.

Paid sick leave laws were on ballots and passed in: Massachusetts; Trenton, NJ; Montclair, NJ; and Oakland, CA (while California already has a paid sick leave law, Oakland now expands on it).  Specifically:

Massachusetts:  Allows employees to accrue a minimum of one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.  Caps paid sick time at 40 hours annually.

Oakland, CA:  Gives employee’s one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.  Current California law gives workers a minimum of 24 hours of paid sick leave.

Montclair, NJ:  Gives employees one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

Trenton, NJ:  Gives employees one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

The tide is certainly rising on the number of paid sick leave laws throughout the country.  At the end of 2013, only one state and six cities had such laws.  As it stands today, three states and sixteen cities have sick leave laws on the books.  New Jersey now has eight cities with paid sick leave laws, making it the clear municipal leader in the area (Jersey City, Newark, East Orange, Irvington, Passaic, Paterson, Montclair, and Trenton).  And, while the list of regulations employers face continues to surge and business considerations mount, employers are wise to review their current policies and consider how they will record and monitor employees’ hours for purposes of determining accruals and eligibility.

For a more detailed analysis of these laws, please see the Management Alert written by our colleagues, Joshua Seidman and Anne Bider.

For additional information on paid sick leave laws, contact the authors, any member of Seyfarth’s Absence Management and Accommodation Team, or your Seyfarth attorney.