On June 28, the Los Angeles City Council passed a new law requiring Los Angeles hotels to ensure their workers' safety and fair compensation. It does so by imposing on hotels sweeping new requirements, including a higher minimum wage, personal security devices for workers, limits on the square footage workers may clean in a workday and more. The Los Angeles law, called the Hotel Worker Protection Ordinance (HWPO), creates Section 182 of Article 2 of Chapter 28 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code. Set to take effect on Aug. 12, the new law takes after similar laws adopted by cities across California – including Santa Monica, Long Beach and West Hollywood – and beyond. In some respects, the Los Angeles law goes even further than those of other cities.
The law applies to all of the city of Los Angeles' "hotel employers," defined as "any person who owns, controls, or operates a hotel in the City." Under the new ordinance, a hotel is responsible for not only its own violations but also for its contractors' violations. Such shared responsibility means it is incumbent on hotels to ensure not only they but also their contractors – from temporary staffing agencies to employee leasing agencies – comply with the new law's requirements.
Here are the new law's key requirements:
Expanded Minimum Wage Hike
In addition to setting out hotel workers' rights and hotel employers' obligations, the new ordinance amends the language of other Los Angeles ordinances, including the Citywide Hotel Worker Minimum Wage Ordinance's (CHWMWO) definition of "hotel." Previously, the CHWMWO's rules applied only to hotels with 150 or more guests. As of Aug. 12, the CHWMWO's rules apply to hotels with 60 or more guest rooms. With the HWPO's changes, as of Aug. 12, the minimum wage for hotel workers in hotels with 60 or more guest rooms is $18.86 per hour, up from $17.64 per hour.
All hotels – regardless of the number of rooms – must provide a "personal security device," i.e., a panic button, to all workers assigned to a guest room or restroom where no other hotel workers are assigned to be present. If activated, the device must alert either a designated security guard or a responsible supervisor to the activation and to the worker's location.
Whether the new ordinance requires a hotel to designate a security guard or a responsible supervisor depends on the number of guest rooms in the hotel. Hotels with 60 or more guest rooms must hire and designate a security guard to respond to the panic button. For hotels with 59 or fewer guest rooms, the new ordinance allows the hotel to designate a supervisor or a manager to provide on-scene assistance in the event of an activation. If a hotel does so, the hotel must provide the designee with at least three hours of training every year on the ordinance's requirements and the function and maintenance of the personal security devices as well as the hotel's protocols for providing on-scene assistance.
Hotels must also post notices on the inside of each guest room and restroom facility's door that explain the hotel provides its workers personal security devices. The ordinance is very particular about the posting: It must be written in a font no smaller than 18 point, bear the heading "The Law Protects Hotel Workers From Threatening Behavior" and provide a citation to the ordinance.
The new ordinance also requires hotels to train their workers every year about the personal security devices, such as how to use and maintain them, protocols for how to respond to an activation, and hotel workers' rights and the hotel's obligations with regard to the security devices. If the hotel has 60 or more guest rooms, it must provide that training in English, Spanish and any other language spoken by at least 10 percent of its workforce. Finally, the hotel must maintain a record demonstrating its workers' attendance at the annual training.
The new law establishes specific, new rights for hotel workers. For example, hotels must allow employees sufficient paid time off to report violent or threatening conduct to law enforcement and to seek counseling if the employee wishes to. Hotels may not prevent, or attempt to prevent, employees from reporting violent or threatening conduct, nor may they take, or threaten to take, any adverse employment action against an employee for doing so. Finally, upon request, a hotel employer must reasonably accommodate employees subjected to violent or threatening conduct. The ordinance includes a nonexhaustive list of such accommodations, which includes a modified work schedule, reassignment to a vacant position, or adjustment to job structure, workplace facility or work requirements.
Hotels must provide notice to their workers of these rights in writing either at a worker's time of hire or within 30 days of Aug. 12, whichever is later. Notice must be given in English, Spanish and any other language spoken by at least 10 percent of the hotel's workforce.
If a hotel has 45 or more guest rooms, the new law limits the amount of square footage a hotel can require its workers to clean in any workday. For hotels with between 45 and 60 guest rooms, the limit is 4,000 square feet. For hotels with 60 or more guest rooms, the limit is 3,500 square feet.
The amount of square footage the law allows a hotel to assign to a worker depends further on whether the square footage is in more than one hotel building and whether the square footage is on more than two of a hotel's floors, among other factors. Anytime a worker is required to exceed those limits, that worker is owed a wage premium. Hotels also must provide workers with each room's actual square footage in any written assignment they receive of rooms to clean.
Under the new law, a hotel employer cannot require – or even allow without either informed written consent or in the event of an emergency – hotel workers to work more than 10 hours in a workday.
Green Programs Are OK, But ...
Under the new law, a hotel cannot implement a policy whereby guest rooms are not cleaned and sanitized after each and every night they are occupied; however, hotels may still have "green programs" that encourage guests to reuse linens and towels. A hotel cannot offer guests a financial incentive to not have their room cleaned. Without a hotel's solicitation, a guest may opt out of daily cleaning service and the hotel may still honor such a guest's choice.
The ordinance imposes broad recordkeeping requirements, which, in many cases, exceed those imposed by other cities. Los Angeles' law requires hotels to maintain extensive records for at least three years and to make those records available to employees or their representatives to inspect and copy. Under Los Angeles' new ordinance, hotel employers must keep records of:
- Each room attendant's name, rate of pay and pay received.
- Identification of rooms cleaned.
- Actual square footage of each room cleaned.
- Number of special-attention rooms (a room for which the occupant declined daily cleaning on the immediately preceding day).
- Number of additional hotel buildings.
- Number of additional bed rooms (a room with an additional bed or beds besides those regularly in the room, e.g., a cot).
- Total square footage cleaned each workday.
- Any written consents to work voluntary overtime.
Hotels may not retaliate against workers for exercising their rights under the new law. If a hotel takes any adverse action against a worker who exercised their rights within one year of the hotel's adverse action, the hotel must – before or at the same time as the action – provide a statement of the hotel's reasons. The hotel's statement must be written and include all the relevant facts.
The new ordinance allows any aggrieved person or the city itself to bring claims for a violation and to seek an injunction compelling compliance. Those responsible for a violation are liable for any damages an aggrieved person suffers as well as for statutory damages of $100 per person per day, up to $1,000 per day for all aggrieved workers. A plaintiff who prevails on a claim for violation of the ordinance is entitled to attorneys' fees and costs, including expert witness fees. Penalties triple for willful violations.
The ordinance has many moving pieces. It is possible to obtain a one-year exemption from the new ordinance if a hotel can demonstrate compliance would force it into bankruptcy, to shut down, or to reduce either its workforce by more than 20 percent or its workers' total hours by more than 30 percent.
Many of the new law's provisions can be superseded by a bona fide collective bargaining agreement. Such an agreement has to be clear, unambiguous and in writing – and no party to the agreement can supersede or waive any provision by unilaterally imposing terms or conditions of employment.
Hotels in Los Angeles looking to comply with the new ordinance and the myriad of unique requirements under state and local laws can rely on BakerHostetler's depth of labor, employment and hospitality experience.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.