Sexual Harassment in the Hotel Industry
Written by John Winer
August 3, 2018
In the average hotel, a guest will find a front desk in the lobby, a restaurant/bar somewhere on the ground floor and of course rooms. In each of those locations however, there also lives such rampant sexual misconduct that by some estimates nine out of ten hotel employees claim to have experienced it at some point.
In the United Kingdom, a study done by Unite the Union’s “Not on the Menu” survey showed that 56.3% of hotel workers claim to have been targeted by a member of the public for sexual harassment and 22.7% said they’d been harassed by someone in management. In Las Vegas, the problem is so bad that hotel workers demanded panic buttons available to them in case they are cornered by a guest while they are working. This is also the case in Seattle and Chicago, other popular tourist destinations.
Hotels, and other areas of the hospitality industry, wrestle with sexual harassment stemming from two different groups, management and customers. At hotels, men traveling for business or pleasure without their significant other may feel much more freedom in behaving a certain way. A hotel guest away from his partner may feel free to drink more, flirt with staff, and sometimes even touch someone in an unwanted or unwelcome manner. In addition, hotel management may hire a waitress, hostess, or concierge due to her looks and use that as an excuse to treat her differently. Women working in a hotel bar will not only have to be mindful of her manager’s propensity to grab or caress her, but she’ll also have to keep a watchful eye on inebriated guests from out of town who are looking for a quick fling before returning home.
There are horror stories of housekeepers being groped from behind while in a guest’s room and not reporting it for fear of being fired, bartenders and waitresses propositioned by businessmen and nude guests welcoming unsuspecting hotel staff into their rooms. Part of the hospitality culture that allows for such behavior is the issue of tips. If a waitress, housekeeper, bartender, or barista is hoping to get a tip from the customer, she may be far less willing to call out bad behavior by the customer.
As unions fight in city after city to get greater protections for workers in the hotel industry, hotel management and even politicians can help the cause. Making panic buttons available to every hotel worker as a matter of protection is a good first step. Openly prosecuting hotel guests who cross the line is another good deterrent. Lastly, the culture of tipping in general is another area of concern. When women are underpaid by their employer and then expected to recoup the loss via customer service, it allows certain men the latitude to behave horribly without fear of reprisal. Any one of these changes could offer greater, long-term protections for hospitality workers.