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"Panic button" could protect hotel workers from sexual harassment

When you are sexually harassed by a co-worker, supervisor or manager, you know you have a right to take legal action. But what if a customer sexually harasses you in the workplace?

One industry that experiences this most often is the hotel industry. One study found that as many as 58 percent of hotel workers have been sexually harassed by a guest. A bill proposed to the California legislature aims to change that.

The legislation would require employers to provide a "panic button" to employees so they can signal when they are being harassed by a guest. It also requires hotels to ban the harasser for a minimum of three years. But will this effectively protect hotel workers?

Are employers liable if a customer sexually harasses an employee?

Much of the problem for employees who are harassed by customers stems from a simple question: are employers responsible if an employee is harassed on the job by a third party? The short answer is, possibly.

Employers are required to maintain a safe workplace, and when they knowingly assign housekeepers work that may put them at risk of harassment, they may be responsible if harassment occurs.

Will a panic button solve the problem?

It is hard to combat employee-guest sexual harassment incidents, largely because many hotel workers fail to report these incidents to their employer. This legislation will not only help hotel workers by making it easier for them to notify their employers, but will ban harassers from the premises for several years, hopefully improving conditions by removing repeat offenders.

Ultimately, employers need to take further measures to protect their employees from harassment on all levels. California has some of the most generous protections in place for employees, and with this legislation, we may take one more step in the right direction.

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