Washington State Lawmakers Approve Workplace Protections for Exotic Dancers, Hospitality, and Retail Industries

Employees who work alone or in isolated locations will be equipped with panic buttons to call for help, under new Washington law.

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Washington State

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed bills aimed at increasing safety and security for exotic dancers and preventing sexual harassment and sexual assault of “isolated” hospitality workers. Both bills require industry employers to provide panic buttons.

Adult entertainment employers

Employers in the adult entertainment industry will be required to provide a “panic button” in bathrooms, dressing rooms, and each room where an entertainer may be alone with a customer. The new law went into effect July 28, 2019, and establishes additional responsibilities for adult entertainment employers.

The panic button is an emergency contact device that an entertainer may use to summon immediate, on-scene assistance from another entertainer, a security guard, or the employer’s representative.

An entertainer may use the panic button if the entertainer has been “harmed, reasonably believes there is a risk of harm, or there is another emergency in the entertainer’s presence,” according to the bill’s text. In addition, the law says the entertainer may stop working and leave the area to wait for help.

Adult entertainment establishments must also record the accusations it receives that a customer has acted violently toward an entertainer, including assault, sexual assault, or sexual harassment.

The law says the employer must “make every effort to obtain the customer’s name and if the establishment cannot determine the name, it must record as much identifying information about the customer as is reasonably possible.”

Employers must keep a record of the customer’s identifying information for at least five years.

If an accusation is supported by evidence or is made under penalty of perjury, the employer cannot allow the customer to return to the business for at least three years. Employers must also share the information among the other clubs that it owns and refuse to allow the customer to enter those clubs for at least three years.

The law imposes additional training requirements for adult entertainers and creates a task force to identify other safety measures.

Training must include education about the rights and responsibilities of entertainers, including working as an employee or as an independent contractor; reporting workplace injuries, including sexual and physical abuse and sexual harassment; and resources for assistance. Entertainers must provide proof of having taken the training in order to get or renew their adult entertainer license starting July 1, 2020.

The law also requires that an advisory committee be established to help implement training and consider whether additional safety and security measures are needed. At least half of the advisory committee members must be current or former entertainers who have been licensed for at least five years.

Hospitality industry employers 

Gov. Inslee also approved new requirements for hospitality industry and retail employers aimed at preventing sexual harassment and sexual assault for workers who spend a majority of their working hours working alone or alongside two or fewer coworkers.

The new law, SB 5258, amends the Washington Law Against Discrimination to add requirements applicable to hotel, motel, retail, security guard entity, or property services contractor employers with at least one employee. The new law requires that employers adopt a sexual harassment policy and provide mandatory sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual discrimination training to the employer’s managers, supervisors and employees.

As a part of the training, employers must educate their workforce regarding protections for workers who report violations of state or federal sexual assault and sexual harassment laws in the workplace, including providing a list of resources for employees that includes 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.

In addition, hospitality, retail, security guard and property services contractors must provide a panic button for each employee.

The Department of Labor and Industries is expected to provide guidance for panic button implementation.

Sixty-room hotels and motels must comply by Jan. 1, 2020, while all other employers must comply by Jan. 1, 2021.

Other states to follow

Washington isn’t the only state requiring hospitality employers to provide a panic button for certain employees. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill on June 11, 2019, mandating that most of its hotels provide their workers with wearable panic buttons so they can summon help in an emergency, according to a story by The Associated Press.

The bill was motivated by the story of a housekeeper at a New Jersey casino who said she was pushed into a room and then sexually assaulted. The New Jersey law goes into effect in January and applies to hotels with 100 or more rooms, the AP says.

Similar bills are reportedly under consideration in Illinois and Florida.

Several cities including Chicago, Miami Beach, Fla., and New York City have mandated panic buttons through ordinances passed by their city councils while many collective bargaining agreements also require the devices at union hotels, The New York Times has reported. However, a Washington State appellate court blocked implementation of Seattle’s panic button law on Dec. 24, 2018.

Several hotel chains, including top names like Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott, have reportedly said they will put the safety devices in place at their hotels by 2020.

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