Illinois: Hotel & Casino Employee Safety Act Protects Employees from Sexual Harassment & Assault

By Erin Fowler, Bill Pokorny, and Amanda Mehr* - Franczek P.C.

June 14, 2019

Over the last few days, we’ve been sending you updates on the key provisions of SB75, the anti-harassment legislation awaiting approval by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. In this alert, we focus on another new law created by SB75, the Hotel and Casino Employee Safety Act. This new law, once it takes effect, will require hotel and casino employers to (1) provide “panic button” devices to certain employees; and (2) implement a sexual harassment policy including certain provisions detailed in the law. If this sounds familiar to Chicago employers, it should, as it generally mirrors the requirements of a Chicago ordinance enacted in 2017.

Provision of “Panic Buttons”

The Act will require downstate hotel and casino employers to do as Chicago hotels have already done by providing employees working alone in guest rooms, restrooms, or the casino floor with portable notification devices (“panic buttons”) that summon help to the employee’s location when the employee “reasonably believes that an ongoing crime, sexual harassment, sexual assault, or other emergency is occurring in the employee’s presence.” These devices must be provided to the employees at no cost.

Implementation of A Sexual Harassment Policy

Hotel and casino employers are also required to implement a sexual harassment policy that protects employees from sexual harassment and assault by guests. The policy must not only encourage employees to immediately report instances of alleged sexual assault or harassment, but must also include the following elements:

• A description of the procedures the employee and employer should follow when reporting or receiving a complaint of sexual assault or harassment by a guest;
• Instructions to the complaining employee that he or she is permitted to cease work and leave the immediate area where the danger is perceived until hotel or casino personnel or the police arrive to provide assistance;
• An offer of a temporary work assignment to the complaining employee away from the offending guest for the duration of the guest’s stay;
• A provision for paid time off to the complaining employee to: (i) file a police report or criminal complaint against the offending guest; or (ii) testify as a witness against the offending guest resulting from a criminal complaint;
• A notice to employees that the Illinois Human Rights Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provide additional protection against sexual harassment in the workplace; and
• A notice to employees that retaliation is prohibited against any employee who complains of sexual assault or harassment or who uses the panic button.

The employer must provide the policy to all employees and must post the policy in conspicuous places in the hotel or casino where employees are likely to see it. The policy must be provided in English and Spanish, and hotel and casino employers must also make a reasonable effort to provide and post the policy in any language that is spoken by a predominate portion of their employees.

Remedies for Noncompliance

 Employees, or their representatives, who believe a hotel or casino employer has violated this Act must provide written notice to the employer of the alleged violation. The hotel or casino employer then has 15 calendar days to remedy to the alleged violation. If the violation is not remedied, the employee or representative may file a lawsuit against the hotel or casino in the appropriate circuit court to seek relief from such violation. An employee or representative who successfully challenges a violation of the Act is entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees and costs as well as damages up to $350 per violation, with each day constituting a separate violation.

Key Points for Hotel and Casino Employers

• The Act, once signed by Governor Pritzker, takes effect on July 1, 2020.
• Hotel and casino employers should carefully review their current harassment policies to ensure compliance with the Act’s requirements.
Hotel employers in Chicago are already required to provide and post notice of the harassment policy in English, Spanish, and Polish under the existing City ordinance. To ensure compliance with this new Act, covered Chicago employers must also confirm that they are providing and posting the policy in any other language spoken by a predominant portion of their employees.
• Hotel and casino employers should evaluate how many of their employees work alone is guest rooms, restrooms, or on the casino floor to determine how many panic buttons are needed. Hotel and casino employers may also evaluate whether they can pair employees so that fewer are left working alone.

Please watch for additional alerts regarding details of SB75.

*Amanda Mehr is currently a law student at Chicago-Kent College of Law and is a Franczek LEADS Fellow.

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