By: Ty Hyderally, Esq. and Chantal N. Guerriero, Esq.
The New Jersey Panic Device Law (“NJ S2986” or the “Act”), was introduced on September 24, 2018, and passed on June 11, 2019. The Act “[r]equires hotels to provide panic [devices] to hotel employees for protection from unsafe working conditions while performing housekeeping duties.” NJ S2986. The rationale behind the new law stems from the unique nature of the hotel work environment, which may often place hotel employees who complete their job duties alone at a particularly high risk of assault, sexual harassment, or other inappropriate criminal conduct. The Act even permits hotel employees to leave immediate areas of perceived danger without the risk of any adverse or retaliatory actions by their employers for doing so.
It should be noted that the Act only imposes its requirements on New Jersey establishments which meet the definitions of “hotel,” and employ individuals who meet the definition of “hotel employee” as described in the text of the Act. The definition of “hotel” is stated broadly to include inns, boarding houses, motels, “or other establishments” which can accommodate at least 100 guest rooms. Specifically:
“Hotel” means any hotel, inn, boarding house, motel or other establishment whose proprietor offers and accepts payment for rooms, sleeping accommodations or board and lodging and retains the right of access to, and control of, the premises…which contains at least 100 guest rooms.
“Hotel employee” or “employee” means 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.
To comply with the Act, hotels meeting the aforementioned definitions will be required to provide a free panic device to each employee required to work in guest rooms without other employees present. Should a panic device be activated, the hotel will be required to promptly send a staff member to the scene. Such hotels will also be required to keep a record list of the accusations it receives that a guest has committed an act of violence, including sexual assault, sexual harassment, or other inappropriate conduct towards a hotel employee, and to investigate incidents and report any criminal conduct that occurred. Additionally, such hotels will be required to notify all hotel employees who are assigned to housekeeping or room service duties of the room in which the alleged incident occurred of the presence of any guest named on the list and provide them with the option of opting out of servicing the room for the duration of the guest’s stay.
A hotel employee may activate their panic device where they “reasonably believe there is an ongoing crime, or immediate threat of assault or harassment, or other emergency in the employee’s presence.” NJ S2986. As aforementioned, “the hotel employee may cease work and leave the immediate area of perceived danger or inappropriate conduct to await the arrival of assistance, and no adverse action may be taken against the hotel employee for such action.” NJ S2986.
Going forward, the new law signals broader protections for employees working in a hotel setting and imposes that employer-hotels take further steps to ensure the safety of their employees. The new law also protects employees from suffering employer retaliation, thereby encouraging employees to report unsafe conditions and discouraging employers from penalizing their employees. NJ S2986 is expected to go into effect in January 2020.
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