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Protecting workers from violence and employers from liability

One of the biggest stories in recent news has been the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former chief of the International Monetary Fund. Strauss-Kahn was arrested after he allegedly tried to sexually assault a maid in the hotel where he was staying.

Because of the secluded nature of the work, hotel cleaning staff is often in danger of both sexual harassment and sexual violence. The recent alleged incident with Strauss-Kahn has brought the issue of worker safety into the spotlight, but the problem is certainly not new.

In response to recent sexual violence that occurred in two hotels, the Pierre and Sofitel hotels have decided to provide panic buttons to their housekeepers. This decision is a smart one, likely stemming from both personal concern and legal protection from employer liability.

Employers have a responsibility to make sure that their employees work in a safe environment, free from danger and the threat of violence or harassment. They are ultimately responsible for sexual harassment or violence that occurs on their premises, regardless of who perpetrated it.

Employers are also responsible for responding to any employee claims of sexual harassment from coworkers, customers or clients. Failing to act sends a strong message that management condones the behavior. If harassment is happening and management is doing nothing to stop it, the company can and should be held legally liable.

Unfortunately, there will always be jobs that create ideal conditions for sexual harassment and violence to occur. Forward-thinking companies will see a danger and fix the problem as these two hotels have done. By protecting the safety of employees, companies will protect themselves at the same time.

Source: Reuters, "Employee Panic Buttons Offered After Maid Attacks," Cynthia Hsu, 03 June 2011

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