Tag Archives: anti-harassment policies

Illinois Hotel & Casino Employee Safety Act on Way to Passage

Contributed by Brian Wacker, April 2, 2019

Croupier behind gambling table in a casino.

More than two dozen Illinois State Senators have signed on to co-sponsor SB0075, a bill to enact the Illinois Hotel and Casino Safety Act (the “Act”). Likely to pass in the coming weeks, the Act will impose new requirements on hotels and casinos operating in Illinois to provide “panic buttons” to certain employees and adopt specific anti-sexual harassment policies.

What Does The Act Require?

The Panic Button

The panic button requirement is directed at hotel or casino employees placed in certain positions that may involve interacting with guests alone. 

Under the Act, hotels and casinos will be required to provide any employee who works in a guest room, restroom or casino floor “under circumstances where no other employee is present in the room or area, with a safety device or notification device.”  The device is to be provided to employees to use to summon help if they reasonably believe there is an ongoing crime, sexual harassment or assault or other emergency occurring in their presence. 

The Act will require the device to be provided to hotel or casino employees at no cost to them.

Anti-Sexual Harassment Policies

The Act will also require hotel and casino employers to develop or modify their anti-sexual harassment policies “to protect employees against sexual assault and sexual harassment by guests.”  Specifically, those policies will be required to contain provisions that:

  • Encourage employees to immediately report sexual assault or sexual harassment by guests;
  • Describe procedures that the employee and hotel or casino employer are to follow in cases of sexual assault or sexual harassment by guests;
  • Instruct employees to cease work and leave the immediate area where the danger is perceived until hotel or casino personnel or law enforcement arrive to assist;
  • Offer temporary work assignments to complaining employees during the duration of the offending guest’s stay at the hotel or casino (this could include assigning the employee to a different floor, station or work area);
  • Provide employees with necessary paid time off to sign police complaints against the offending guest and to testify in any legal proceedings which may ensue as a result of the sexual assault or harassment;
  • Inform employees that the Illinois Human Rights Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act provide them additional protections against harassment in the workplace; and
  • Inform employees that it is illegal for the hotel or casino employer to retaliate against employees who reasonably use the panic button device or otherwise avail themselves of the Act’s protections.

These new policies will need to be provided to all employees in English, Spanish and any other language predominant among the employer’s workforce.  The policies must also be posted in conspicuous places in the areas of the hotel or casino where employees can reasonably be expected to see them.

Employee Remedies for Violation of the Act

The Act will make it unlawful for a hotel or casino employer to retaliate against any employee who “reasonably uses” the panic button device, avails himself or herself of the protections of the Act, or who discloses, reports or testifies about any violation of the Act.  The Act also creates a private right of action for employees who allege violations of the Act. 

Remedies for violation of the Act are significant. In addition to injunctive relief to cease violations of the Act, it authorizes an employee to recover up to $350 per violation, with each day that a violation continues constituting a separate violation. The Act will also permit employees to seek equitable remedies such as reinstatement, and require that a hotel or casino employer pay reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs to successful employee claimants.  Note: this is a one-way street. The Act does not permit employers to recover attorneys’ fees and costs from unsuccessful claimants.

Employer Opportunity To Cure

Employees will, however, have to exhaust certain non-litigation remedies first.  Before bringing a claim under the Act, employees must (1) notify the hotel or casino employer, in writing, of the alleged violation and (2) allow the hotel or casino employer fifteen days to remedy the alleged violation. 

Effective Date

The Act will give hotel and casino operators in Illinois time to get into compliance. As currently drafted, the Act would not go into effect until July 1, 2020.

I Heart You! Office Romance and Risk Management

Contributed by Beverly Alfon, February 13, 2018

As most turn their thoughts to love and romance this Valentine’s Day, we remind you of the potential liability that Cupid’s arrow may unleash. In this post-Weinstein and #MeToo period, the thought of office romance may catapult an employer into sheer panic. Although a recent CareerBuilder survey indicates that office romance is at a 10-year low, the stats are still telling: 36% of workers admitted to having dated a colleague in the past year. Of workers who had an office romance, 30% dated someone in a higher position. Yikes. A soured relationship at work can result in a broken heart for the employer – usually in the form of a sexual harassment claim. How can an employer address this?

A Love Contract?

heart

Red outline of heart on white background

These things exist. They are written relationship agreements that employers seek from employees to confirm the existence of a consensual relationship. The employer’s goal is to mitigate risk by documenting the employer’s expectation that they comply with all existing policies, including anti-harassment policies. They can also be used to set ground rules for other conduct, including public displays of affection (PDA), favoritism – and retribution (in case the relationship turns sour).  However, while these contracts can be a good “band-aid” for addressing the relationship, if a company does not have an anti-harassment program or policy regarding office relationships; it is not the best option.

A love contract alone will not likely defeat an employee’s claim of harassment. Most sexual harassment plaintiffs can claim that they were coerced into signing one because their employer presented the agreement in the context of their at-will employment. Practically, a love contract is also difficult because it requires employees to admit to the existence of a relationship in the first place. In the same CareerBuilder survey, 41% of the workers kept their romance a secret – and almost 25 of survey respondents admitted to an affair with a colleague where one person involved was married at the time.

Snap out of it!

You can more effectively mitigate legal risk by focusing on your anti-harassment program. If you don’t have a written policy in place, invest the time and dollars to get one. Having a policy on the books is not enough. It should be supplemented with annual interactive training courses (a legal requirement for California employers) – ones tailored for non-supervisory and supervisory employees. The goal is to document that employees have been trained on the internal complaint procedures. Equally important is training your supervisors on how to avoid harassment claims and how to properly handle claims if the supervisor receives knowledge of a claim. A solid anti-harassment/discrimination program demonstrates employer good-faith and can form a defense against such claims.

A general workplace romance or “fraternization” policy can address concerns over PDA and favoritism. Don’t play footsie over this. Specifically address office relationships to make it clear that you expect professional and respectful behavior of all employees, regardless of any personal relationship between them. You can prohibit PDA in the office or on company time. And yes, you can forbid romantic relationships between supervisors and subordinates. According to a 2013 survey conducted by SHRM, of businesses that had a romance policy, 99% banned supervisor-subordinate relationships. And, it’s no wonder. In addition to harassment claims, soured relationships can result in claims of assault and battery, false imprisonment and defamation against the alleged harasser. Inevitably, the employer will be rolled into any related litigation.

Bottom Line: Love contracts are uncomfortable and not very effective.  It is more effective to prohibit the risky conduct in the first place. Implementing a strong anti-harassment program and addressing employee relationships in a policy will go further in mitigating risks.