New Jersey Becomes First State to Require Panic Buttons for Hotel Workers

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

June 19, 2019

A groundbreaking New Jersey law will compel most hotels to provide their workers with wearable panic buttons that they can press in case of emergency. The measure is the first state law of its kind and aims to protect cleaning staff and other employees from being more at risk for sexual assault and harassment when working in secluded hotel areas.

Effective January 1, 2020, a hotel employer in New Jersey must provide a panic device to each hotel employee who is assigned to work in a guest room when no other employees are present. The law applies to hotels with 100 or more rooms.

Hotel employees who reasonably believe they are in imminent danger may stop work and leave the immediate area to await the arrival of assistance. The law states that an employer may not take adverse action against a hotel employee for taking such action. It also notes that the panic button must be provided at no cost to the employee.

Under the law, hotel employers must educate employees regarding the use of panic buttons and encourage employees to activate them when appropriate. Hotel employers also must keep a record of any accusations that a guest has committed an act of violence - including sexual assault, sexual harassment or other inappropriate conduct - towards a hotel employee and keep the accused guest's name on the list for at least five years from the date of the incident.

"We must protect the safety of workers in the hospitality industry," said Gov. Phil Murphy in a statement. "This new law will ensure that hotel employees performing their duties will have the means to summon immediate assistance if they are in danger."

Unite Here Local 54 represents 10,000 casino workers in Atlantic City. Union president Bob McDevitt told the Associated Press that sexual harassment is a significant problem in the hotel industry. "Our country has been preoccupied with millionaire entertainers being sexually harassed by billionaire owners," he said. "But what is being lost in all this are the working women who are far more likely to face this kind of behavior at their jobs."