NJ Law Mandates Panic Buttons for Hotel Employees

June 19, 2019Alerts

Hotels in New Jersey will soon be required to provide panic buttons for employees who work in guest rooms and to comply with certain documentation, training, investigation and guest notification protocol.

The legislature found that hotel employees, due to the unique nature of their work – often alone in guest rooms that may still be occupied – are particularly vulnerable to unsafe working conditions, including the risk of assault and sexual harassment. The new law is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2020.

About the Law

The Senate and General Assembly of New Jersey approved Senate Bill Number 2986 on June 11, 2019. The law will require hotels with more than 25 guest rooms to provide panic buttons to each hotel employee who is assigned to work in a guest room without any other employee present, at no cost to the employees.

The term "hotel employee” is defined in the law to include any natural person who works full-time or part-time performing housekeeping or room service duties at a hotel for or under the direction of the hotel employer or any subcontractor of the hotel employer for wages or salary or remuneration of any type under a contract or subcontract of employment.

A panic button is a portable two-way radio or other electronic device that is kept on an employee's person when the employee is in a guest room and allows an employee to easily and quickly call for immediate on-scene help from a security officer, manager or supervisor, or other appropriate hotel staff. Once a panic button is activated, appropriate personnel must immediately report to the location of the hotel employee.

Under the new legislation, covered hotel employees who reasonably believe they are in the presence of an ongoing crime, emergency or immediate threat of assault or harassment may stop working, leave the immediate area and wait for help to arrive. The hotel may not take any adverse action against an employee who exercises his or her right to use the panic button.

Hotels will also be required to:

  • Keep an accurate record of all accusations against a guest for acts of violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment or any other inappropriate behavior towards a hotel employee. The hotel is required to maintain these records for a period of at least five years from the date of the incident.
  • Conduct an internal investigation of each accused guest to gather as much identifying information as possible. After the investigation, if the employee provides a certified statement of the incident, or if the hotel determines that there is sufficient supporting independent evidence of the incident, the hotel must decline to serve the accused guest for at least three years from the date of the incident.
  • Report incidents involving alleged criminal conduct to the appropriate law enforcement agency. The hotel must also cooperate with any investigations.
  • Notify all hotel employees who are assigned to housekeeping or room service duties of the room in which an alleged incident occurred, of both the presence and location of any guest who has been accused of committing an act of violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment or any other inappropriate behavior towards a hotel employee. The hotel employee who activated the panic button will automatically and immediately be reassigned to a work in a different area, away from the location of the guest, for the duration of the guest’s stay. Other hotel employees will have the choice to either service the room with a partner, or to opt out of servicing the room completely for the duration of the guest’s stay.
  • Develop and maintain an education program to teach hotel employees how to use the panic button and inform them of their rights if they activate the panic button. The hotel must also encourage covered employees to use the panic buttons.
  • Inform guests that hotel employees are provided with panic buttons. The hotel can do so by including the information in the terms and conditions acknowledged by guests when they check-in, or by posting signs in the interior of guest room doors, in a prominent location and in large font, explaining the policy and the employees’ rights.

Noncompliance Penalties

A hotel’s first violation of any provision of the act, including failure to provide a panic device or failure to follow the protocol outlined above, may result in a civil penalty of no more than $5,000. Each subsequent violation of any provision of this act may result in a civil penalty of no more than $10,000.

For more information, please contact Lucy Li at [email protected] or any member of Fox Rothschild’s Labor & Employment Department or Hospitality Practice Group.