Sexual assault and harassment of cleaning staff is all too common. Studies confirm that janitorial and housekeeping staff are more likely to be subject to sexual harassment than those working in other professions. Hospitality workers are particularly vulnerable to this type of abuse, and need to be vigilant.
Victims of workplace sexual harassment deserve to have a voice. Unfortunately, many victims are reluctant to report incidents of abuse out of fear they will not be believed, or worse, that their job will be jeopardized by speaking up. For these reasons and more, victims of workplace harassment are urged to seek the assistance of a reputable employment lawyer who will fight for justice on their behalf.
Threats Posed by Guests
A number of factors contribute to the high rate of sexual harassment against maids and janitorial staff. First, although hotel cleaning staff can be male or female, the job is traditionally performed by female employees who may be perceived as powerless by guests. This can be aggravated by the fact that maids are often immigrants, or speak English as a second language. Sadly, guests may perceive these hard working women as easy targets.
Maids are often forced to wear sexualizing uniforms that many argue are not age appropriate, and not conducive to performing the hard labor that they do on a day-to-day basis. Further, hotel maids are often isolated on the job. They typically perform work in bedrooms—spaces that are intimate and potentially eroticized for guests. Guests may feel a sense of anonymity, particularly if they are traveling away from home. Male and female guests alike may feel like they can get away with whatever they want because no one will recognize them.
Common Harassment Scenarios
Surveys of hospitality workers reveal the pervasiveness of the problem. In one study, 78 percent of women reported sexual harassment by customers. However, the issue is not gender exclusive. In the same study, a surprising 55 percent of men also reported being harassed by customers. Similar studies suggest that many incidents go unreported, and that rates may be significantly higher.
Some of the most frequently reported scenarios include:
- Men who insisted women close the door while cleaning
- Customers who grab housekeeping’s hand while passing a tip
- Customers asking where they can “find a girl” (soliciting prostitution)
- Grabbing and touching hotel service workers
Employer’s Duty to Keep Staff Safe
Anyone can be the victim of sexual harassment, and the offender can be either male or female. While most people tend to think of sexual harassment as something initiated by an employer against an employee, this is not always the case. Restaurant workers and hospitality staff report sexual harassment by many different perpetrators, including co-workers, vendors, and guests.
Employers have a responsibility to combat sexual harassment on the job, whether it comes from supervisors, co-workers, or guests. It is illegal for employers to fire or demote their employees for speaking up about sexual harassment. If employers fail to take action about known sexual harassment, or retaliate against the victim in any way, the employer may be held liable in court.
Office and Private Home Cleaning Staff May Face Unique Challenges
Housekeepers who work in office settings and in private homes may face unique problems. Those who clean offices may work after hours, and may have to deal with offenders who remain after others have gone home. Those who work in private homes are often working one-on-one with their employer, or when no one else is home, which could potentially create an environment for sexual harassment or abuse.
Programs to Combat Sexual Harassment
Some states have created legislation designed to protect janitorial and cleaning staff from abuse. Hospitality employees and supervisors covered under these laws are required to undergo sexual harassment training and participate in prevention programs. Some areas have established a hotline for victims. Similar bills propose providing staff with “panic buttons,” which allow maids to instantly summon emergency help. Employers who fail to comply with legal directives are subject to fines.