Illinois Joins New Jersey in Protecting Hotel (and Casino) Employees from Sexual Harassment and Violence by Requiring Employer-Provided Panic Button Devices
Earlier this summer, we reported on ground-breaking legislation in New Jersey that requires hotels with more than 100 guest rooms to supply hotel employees assigned to work in a guest room alone with a free panic button device and to adhere to a specific protocol upon activation of a panic button device by a hotel employee. In what may signal the start of a national trend, Illinois just became the second state to pass similar legislation targeting not only hotels but also casinos located within its jurisdiction.
Under the newly created Hotel and Casino Employee Safety Act (Article 5 of Illinois Senate Bill 75), each hotel and casino must equip employees assigned to work in a guest room, restroom or casino floor on their own with a portable emergency contact device or panic button that can be used to summon help if an employee reasonably believes there is an ongoing crime, sexual harassment or assault, or other emergency. Unlike its New Jersey analogue, the Illinois law applies to all casinos and hotels located in Illinois, regardless of their size, number of guest rooms, etc. Significantly, the term “employee” includes both full- and part-time employees, as well as employees of subcontractors.
Similar to the New Jersey law, Illinois hotels and casinos must also develop and adhere to a written anti-sexual harassment policy to protect their employees from sexual assault and harassment by guests. To comply with this requirement, the anti-sexual harassment policy must:
- Encourage employees to immediately report any instance of alleged sexual assault or harassment by a guest; and
- Establish a procedure whereby employees fearful of sexual assault, harassment, or other violence by a guest (i) cease work and leave the immediate area until assistance is provided by the employer and/or the police; (ii) receive a temporary work assignment for the duration of the offending guest’s stay at the hotel/casino; (iii) receive paid time off to file a police report or criminal complaint and, if required, testify as a witness at a resulting legal proceeding; and (iv) are informed of their state law rights against sexual harassment and retaliation (including retaliation for reasonably using a panic device and availing themselves of the protections afforded by the anti-sexual harassment policy).
The policy must be available in English, Spanish, and any other language spoken by a majority of its staff, and posted in conspicuous workplace locations.
The Hotel and Casino Employee Safety Act creates a private cause of action for employees and their representatives, provided that prior to filing suit, a representative of the employee notifies the hotel/casino employer in writing of the alleged violation and affords the employer 15 calendar days to remedy the violation. Damages under the act include, but are not limited to, reinstatement, compensatory damages, and attorney’s fees and costs. Economic damages are capped at $350 per violation but each day a violation continues constitutes a separate violation.
The Hotel and Casino Employee Safety Act becomes effective on July 1, 2020. Illinois hotel and casino operators should use this time to order panic buttons appropriate for the size and physical layout of their building, develop a compliant anti-sexual harassment policy, and train staff on panic button procedures.