Washington State Buttons Up Two New Laws Addressing Worker Harassment and Assault in Hospitality and Adult Entertainment Industries

Washington Governor Jay Inslee recently signed two bills addressing sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. Both bills require covered hospitality employers and adult entertainment establishments to provide panic buttons for covered workers.

New Requirements for Retail and Hospitality Employers

SB 5258, signed into law on May 13, 2019, amends the Washington Law Against Discrimination to add requirements applicable to hotel, motel, retail, security guard entity, or property services contractor employers whose workers spend a majority of their working hours alongside two or fewer coworkers.  

First, the law requires these covered employers to provide a panic button to each janitor, security guard, hotel/motel housekeeper, or room service attendant employee who spends a majority of his or her working hours alongside two or fewer coworkers.1 Panic buttons will not be a new concept for Seattle hospitality employers—the city’s Hotel Employees Health and Safety (HEHS) Initiative (effective November 30, 2016) already requires Seattle hotels with 60 or more guest rooms to provide a panic button to each employee assigned to work in a guest room without other employees present.2 The new Washington law applies to all covered hospitality employers statewide, regardless of size. The definition of “panic button” under SB 5258 largely mirrors that provided under the HEHS Initiative: the device, carried by an employee, must allow the employee to summon immediate on-scene assistance from another worker, a security guard, or a representative of the employer.

Second, SB 5258 requires covered employers to establish a sexual harassment policy and provide mandatory sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination training to all employees. Employers must also provide employees with a list of resources, including contact information for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Washington State Human Rights Commission, and local advocacy groups focused on preventing sexual harassment and assault.3  

Hotel and motels with 60 or more rooms must meet the requirements of SB 5258 by January 1, 2020. All other businesses subject to the law must meet the requirements by January 1, 2021. The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) is expected to publish guidance for panic button implementation.

New Requirements for Adult Entertainment Employers

HB 1756, signed on May 8, 2019, provides additional responsibilities for adult entertainment establishments under the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA). Effective July 28, 2019, an adult entertainment establishment must provide a panic button in each room in which an entertainer may be alone with a customer and in bathrooms and dressing rooms. Unlike Seattle’s HEHS initiative or SB 5258, the required panic button could be on-person or hardwired into the room, but it must similarly allow an entertainer to immediately summon assistance from another entertainer, a security guard, or a representative of the establishment. An entertainer may use the panic button if the entertainer has been harmed, reasonably believes there is risk of harm, or there is another emergency in the entertainer’s presence. In these circumstances, an entertainer may cease work and leave the immediate area to await the arrival of assistance. 

The law also requires adult entertainment establishments to record accusations they receive that a customer has committed an act of violence, including assault, sexual assault, or sexual harassment towards an entertainer. The establishment must make “every effort” to obtain the customer’s identifying information and must store it for at least five years after the most recent accusation. If an accusation is made under penalty of perjury or is supported by “other evidence,” the establishment must refuse to allow the customer to enter the establishment for at least three years after the date of the incident. The law also imposes additional training requirements for entertainers prior to obtaining or renewing licensure on or after July 1, 2020 (with the training to be provided by L&I) and creates a task force to identify other safety measures that may be necessary.

HB 1756 goes into effect July 28, 2019. A violation of the panic button or customer violence provisions is considered a violation of the WISHA, which could entail citations, temporary restraining orders, civil penalties between $5,000 and $70,000 for each willful violation, and/or criminal penalties.4 

Next Steps

Employers in the hospitality and adult entertainment industries are advised to work with an attorney to ensure their policies and practices meet the requirements of these new laws. In particular, employers in the adult entertainment industry should move quickly to take any necessary steps to ensure compliance as soon as July 28, 2019.

See Footnotes

1 Licensed contracted security guard companies are exempt from the panic button requirement.

2 On December 28, 2018, the Washington State Court of Appeals struck down the HEHS Initiative due to violations of the single subject rule. However, at the time of drafting, this issue was currently on appeal before the Washington Supreme Court. While the Seattle Office of Labor Standards reports it is not currently taking affirmative action on HEHS complaints while the appeal is pending, if the Court of Appeals decision is overturned, OLS has indicated it may take retroactive enforcement action.

3 The law also includes reporting obligations for property services contractors, including any entity that provides commercial janitorial services for another person or entity.

4 Wash. Rev. Code §§ 49.17.120-190.

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.