As sexual harassment becomes the subject of national conversation, some cities, such as Chicago, are making significant changes to laws in an effort to reduce harassment. A recent survey of hotels in the Chicagoland area revealed that more than half of women surveyed were sexually harassed or assaulted while at their job. As a result, on October 11, 2017, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance aimed at protecting hotel workers. A copy of that ordinance may be found here. The ordinance is the first of several new regulations impacting Chicago hotels. The ordinance has two primary components, both of which require Chicago hotels to take action quickly.

First, as of October 11, Chicago hotels have 60 days to comply with the law and adopt reporting policies and practices for sexual harassment. The policies must encourage the reporting of sexual assault and harassment, allow workers to leave the area of perceived danger until security arrives, and allow workers to be assigned to work elsewhere during the offending guest’s stay. Further, hotels will have to provide sufficient paid time off if the worker files a complaint with the police or testifies in court for related proceedings. The ordinance requires hotels to provide all of their employees with a copy of the sexual harassment policy and to post the policy in an area where employees can be reasonably expected to see it. The ordinance also holds employers responsible for informing their employees about their protections under the new law, including protection from retaliation due to disclosures or reports about any violations.

Second, as of July 1, 2018, Chicago hotels must provide panic buttons to all employees who work alone in a guest room or restroom. According to the ordinance, panic buttons are defined as “a portable emergency contact device that an employee can quickly and easily activate to effectively summon…prompt assistance by a hotel security officer, manager, or other appropriate hotel staff member designated by the [hotel].” The hotel employee can use the panic button if the employee reasonably believes that an ongoing crime, sexual harassment, sexual assault or other emergency is occurring in the employee’s presence. Additionally, hotel employers must provide the panic buttons free of charge to employees.

Hotels in Chicago that fail to meet the foregoing deadlines and/or comply with the ordinance will suffer major consequences. For example, hotels could have their operating licenses revoked and be fined between $250 and $500 per day for each offense or failure to provide a worker with a panic button.

The passing of this new ordinance by Chicago City Council goes directly to the national conversation around sexual harassment and assault, and speaks to a larger movement toward increasing regulations for hotels. In fact, in early 2018, Chicago hotels must have automated external defibrillators accessible by both guests and employees (see a copy of this ordinance here). Moreover, still pending before the City Council is a potential law that would make hotels liable for failing to monitor and restrict guest access to non-guest areas.

Ensuring that your hotel business is in full and timely compliance with all applicable laws is critical to your continued operations and success.