Q: I operate a hotel in New Jersey and heard New Jersey law now requires me to provide panic devices to certain hotel employees. What do I need to know?
A: New Jersey recently enacted legislation that requires hotel employers to provide a “panic button” to individuals “performing housekeeping or room service duties at a hotel” and is employed by a hotel or subcontractor of a hotel. The new law only applies to hotels and other similar establishments containing at least 100 guest rooms. The law became effective on January 1, 2020.
The state legislature found that because of “the unique nature of hotel work, hotel employees are particularly vulnerable when working alone in hotel guest rooms” placing them at increased risk of assault, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. The legislature also found that many hotel employees are “ marginalized members of society with limited means to support themselves and their families, and without adequate support, may feel intimidated to report inappropriate and criminal conduct for fear of repercussions or retaliation from their employers.”
Under the law, a “panic device” is defined as a “two-way radio or other electronic device which is kept on an employee’s person when the employee is in a guest room, and that permits an employee to communicate with or otherwise effectively summon immediate on-scene assistance from a security officer, manager or supervisor, or other appropriate hotel staff member.”
Hoteliers must provide a free panic device to employees assigned to work in a guest room without any other employees present and permit the employee to use the panic device if the employee believes there is an ongoing crime, immediate threat or assault, harassment, or other emergency. Upon activation of a panic device, an appropriate hotel staff member must “respond promptly to the location of the hotel employee” and no adverse action may be taken against an employee who utilizes their panic device.
In addition, hoteliers must:
- Keep a record of accusations it receives that a guest has committed an act of violence, harassment, or other inappropriate conduct against a hotel employee and maintain that name on a list for five years; and
- Notify employees assigned to work in rooms occupied by guests on the list referenced above and provide employees with the option of servicing that room with a co-worker or not servicing the room at all; and
- Report any incident involving alleged criminal conduct to law enforcement.
Hoteliers also must educate their employees about the panic device program and their rights under this new statute. Furthermore, hotel guests must be advise of the panic device program. Hoteliers who fail to provide panic devices are subject to fines of up to $5,000 for first time violations and $10,000 for subsequent violations.