Panic Buttons and Workload Limits: Los Angeles Hotel Workers Get New Protections

Over the past few years, cities have started to implement their own workplace regulations, an area previously reserved to federal and state governments.  The hotel industry, which often is one of the primary drivers of a local economy, has been a particular focus.1  City governments, including Santa Monica and Oakland, California, have already regulated the workload of housekeeping staff.  Another trend that has developed in the hospitality industry is the push for “panic buttons” for housekeeping staff.  Hotel panic button laws currently are in effect in such locations as Washington State; Chicago, Illinois; Miami Beach, Florida; Long Beach, California; and Oakland, California. Los Angeles will soon join that list.

On July 7, 2022, the mayor of Los Angeles signed a new ordinance, officially called the Regarding Workplace Security, Workload, Wage, and Retention Measure for Hotel Workers Ordinance.  This will establish Section 182 of Article 2 of Chapter 28 of the LA Municipal Code.  This ordinance is designed to protect hotel workers from sexual assault and other crimes as they often clean hotel rooms alone.  The ordinance also institutes worker protections by establishing maximum square footage requirements that a worker is assigned to clean.  The overtime requirements are addressed, in addition to remedies for the hotel workers for violations of these new requirements.

The new ordinance highlights are listed below:

Personal Security Devices Now Required

  • Panic buttons: Covered hotels must provide personal security devices (panic button) to hotel workers, who may activate it if they reasonably believe that violent or threatening conduct is occurring in their presence. A hotel worker is entitled to a security device (typically a personal alarm worn like a necklace), which transmits to a designated security guard who can receive alerts from this device and provide immediate on-scene assistance once it is activated. There is an exception: hotels that are smaller (fewer than 60 rooms) can use a supervisor or manager to fulfill this role so long as they have three hours of training. 
  • Notice requirement: Hotels must post notices on the back of hotel room doors advising of this law, and that hotel staff are equipped with personal alarms.  There are detailed requirements in the required room notice.
  • Training requirements: Hotels must provide training on this ordinance within 30 days of its enactment (by August 1).  Covered entities must not only purchase this technology in that short amount of time, but the entire existing staff and management must also be trained on its use.  Additionally, a new hotel worker must be trained within 30 days of hire. Training must be provided in English, Spanish, and any language spoken by at least 10% of the hotel’s workforce.  There are detailed document retention requirements in this section as well. 

Hotel Workers’ Rights

  • A hotel employer may not take any adverse action against a hotel worker for activating their alarm, or by ceasing work to await security assistance unless there is “clear and convincing” evidence they knowingly and intentionally made a false claim of emergency.
  • If a hotel worker informs the employer about violent or threatening conduct by a hotel guest, they are afforded several rights, including paid time off to report incidents to law enforcement and to consult with a counselor. In addition, the employer:
    • May not attempt to prevent a worker from reporting conduct to law enforcement
    • May not threaten or take any adverse action against a hotel worker based on their decision not to report to law enforcement
    • Shall provide reasonable accommodations (upon request) to a worker who has been subject to violent or threatening conduct, including but not limited to a modified work schedule, reassignment, adjustment to job structure, location of workplace facility, or other work requirements
  • A hotel employer must provide notice of the hotel worker’s rights to each hotel worker at the time of hire, or within 30 days of the effective date of this new ordinance.  The notice requirement must be in English, Spanish, and any language spoken by at least 10% of the hotel’s workforce. 

New Workload and Compensation Rules*

There are new workload limitations, or quotas, in this ordinance:

Number of Rooms

Maximum Sq Feet Permitted

Overtime or Rule Imposed

44 or fewer

Law does not apply

Law does not apply

45 to 59

May only clean a max of 4,000 sq feet in 8 hours

2x the regular rate of pay for every hour worked. NOTE: double time rate does not just apply to hours worked in excess of 8, it applies to ALL hours worked on that day

60 or more

May only clean a max of 3,500 sq feet in 8 hours

2x the regular rate of pay for every hour worked, same as above

45 and up

6 or more “special attention rooms”** or “additional bed rooms” assigned

Total workload permitted must be reduced by 500 sq feet for each room assigned over five

45 and up

Assigned to clean hotel floor space in more than one hotel building during a workday

Total workload permitted must be reduced by 500 sq. feet for each additional hotel building

45 and up

Assigned to clean hotel floor space on more than two floors of a hotel building during a workday

Total workload permitted must be reduced by 500 sq feet for each additional floor

*These rules may be superseded by a collective bargaining agreement, but only if the waiver in the agreement is clear and unambiguous.  Neither party may waive this article by means of unilaterally imposed terms and conditions of employment.

**A special attention room means a guest room for which the occupant declined daily room cleaning on the immediately preceding day.It also includes rooms to be cleaned due to the departure of the guest on their checkout day.

More Details

  • The hotel employer is required to state the actual square footage of each room in all written assignment of rooms that it provides to room attendants.
  • If a worker is assigned less than eight hours, all of the limits in this ordinance are prorated.  Likewise, the limits shall be increased on a prorated basis for each hour of overtime that a room attendant works in excess of eight hours in a workday.

Voluntary Overtime

A hotel employer shall not require or permit a hotel worker to work more than 10 hours in a workday unless the hotel worker consents in writing to do so.  The employer may not subject the employee to adverse employment action for declining to work more than 10 hours in a workday.  In fact, this statement must be in the document handed to the worker, which they can sign to accept working voluntary overtime.  There are exceptions to this overtime rule in case of emergency, which means an “immediate threat to public safety or of substantial risk of property loss or destruction.” 

“Green Programs” in Hotels

Hotels often include a sign in their rooms indicating it has implemented a “green” policy by reducing water and re-washing linens, and that a guest must call an attendant if they wish for the room to be cleaned.  The new ordinance states that although a hotel may continue a green policy of reusing linens and towels, it may not implement any policy where rooms are not sanitized after each and every night they are occupied.  There may be no financial incentive for a guest to opt out of daily room cleaning.  However, the hotel will still honor a guest’s “Do Not Disturb” card on the door handle, and will not force the room to be cleaned against the guest’s wishes.

Keep Your Records

This ordinance has a three-year requirement for records retention of all attendants’ assignments, rate of pay, rooms cleaned, square footage of all rooms cleaned, including special rooms and floors, as well as overtime hours, written consents, and essentially anything else provided in this ordinance.  The employer must provide these records (having redacted other employee names) to the hotel workers or their representative upon request. Also, a hotel worker may request at any time a record of the square footage of each room the worker is assigned to clean.

Strict Anti-Retaliation and Plenty of Enforcement Options

  • No adverse action may be taken against an employee for enforcing their rights under this ordinance.  However, a hotel employer must now provide a detailed written statement to the employee detailing the reasons for their discharge or other adverse action, including all facts claimed to substantiate the reason or reasons.  This written statement is required only if the employer takes adverse action against a hotel worker who is “known to have engaged” in activities under this ordinance, within one year preceding the adverse action.     
  • Joint Civil Liability is imposed on a hotel employer that contracts with another hotel employer or temporary staffing agency, or employer organization, to obtain hotel employee services.  Both will share civil liability for provisions of this ordinance.  This provision is unique and will no doubt make staffing companies second guess contracting with a hotel in Los Angeles.
  • A worker may bring a civil action against the hotel for violations of any of the above protections. The hotel is liable for actual damages suffered by the worker, and statutory damages of $100 per aggrieved person per day.  The statutory damages for failure to maintain records will not exceed $1,000 per day for all affected hotel workers, so it is capped regardless of how many workers the hotel employs (unlike violations for other parts of this law, which are not capped.)
  • Treble damages may be assessed for willful violations of the new workload and compensation rules.
  • The city attorney, or any other aggrieved person, may file an injunction against the hotel for violations of this ordinance.
  • Attorneys’ fees and costs (such as expert witness fees) may be awarded to the prevailing plaintiff.
  • The aggrieved workers may bring suit under this law, in addition to any other law that the hotel has violated in this regard.

Can a Hotel Obtain an Exemption?

Prior to even applying for a waiver, the hotel must supply a copy of its waiver application to all hotel workers employed by the hotel.  If a hotel employer can demonstrate that compliance with this law would require the hotel employer to reduce its workforce by more than 20%, or curtail all workers’ hours by more than 30% in order to avoid bankruptcy or a shutdown, the City “shall grant” a waiver.  Applications are submitted to Los Angeles Department of Public Works, Bureau of Contract Administration, Office of Wage Standards.

A Waiver is Valid for One Year Only

The Department’s determination on a waiver may be appealed to a hearing examiner in accordance with established City practices.  Regardless of the determination of the waiver, the hotel must provide written notice to the hotel workers of the outcome within three days.  

The Workplace Policy Institute continues to monitor and engage with these kinds of local ordinances, which often require difficult and expensive compliance obligations.  Please speak to an attorney of your selection as to how the new ordinance impacts your business.

See Footnotes

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.