Discussions at this year’s Hospitality Law Conference have led me to believe that even if it costs a little more, sometimes it’s better to be more accommodating to employees.
Treating guests well and giving them a positive experience during their stay has long been the goal for hoteliers, who know that a happy guest is likely a guest who will return. It seems obvious that the same should apply to hotel employees: A well-treated employee is happier and will work harder for the company, which in turn will improve guests’ stays.
At the 2017 Hospitality Law Conference in Houston this week, I heard several speakers talk about ways that employers in multiple industries could have avoided legal issues with their employees. They didn’t, the speakers said, because they wanted to save money, didn’t take a request seriously or held on to old-fashioned views. Because this was a law conference, the examples all involved their employees suing them.
I’m sure anyone who has been involved in a lawsuit knows how expensive they are, win or lose. They can drag out for months or years, garner unfavorable news coverage and generally cause stress for everyone involved. Granted, there are times when it is right and necessary to follow through on a lawsuit and do whatever legally and ethically possible to prevail, but I would imagine the best way to win most lawsuits is to avoid one in the first place.
For example, conference attendees heard about a 2016 case in which a bartender who worked nights developed a medical condition that required her to work during the day. Her employer accommodated her request to move to a day shift, but as there were no day-shift openings at the bar, they offered her a position as a server. She accepted it, but soon realized her tips weren’t as good as what she got working at the bar. She asked again for a position at the bar during the day, but there were no openings.
When day-shift positions opened up at the bar, her employer did not offer her those jobs, but hired new employees instead. She sued, basing her claim on discrimination over her medical disability. The court sided with her employer, because her employer had already provided an accommodation to her that she accepted, completing their legal duty.
The court’s decision sounds fair and reasonable, and it worked out in favor of the employer. But having listened to the description of the case, it sounds like the employer could have saved a lot of time and money by simply offering the job to the plaintiff when one opened up. Did they have a legal requirement to do so? No, but it cost them a fair amount to prove that.
Hotels are a business, and the main point of a business is to make a profit. One of the factors to maximizing profit is to minimize expenses, so I agree it doesn’t make economic sense to accommodate every single employee request, especially if they seem unreasonable. But you should at least create an environment in which employees can feel comfortable coming forward with a request, knowing that their manager or supervisor will sincerely consider them.
Times are changing, and government regulations and court decisions have been heading in a direction that gives more deference to employees and their needs. Look at the protections given to lesbian and gay employees over the years, and stronger protections for gender identity are likely coming. Be aware of the growing support, both in the general populace and through state governments, for marijuana use, both medically and recreationally, and take that into consideration for your policies on drug use outside of work hours. Know that you can be held accountable for not addressing harassment against employees, even if it’s a customer and not another of your employees.
Along with the legal discussions, the other thing I heard repeatedly during the conference is the need to invest in your employees to make them happy and give them a chance to succeed. Unemployment is generally down, and new and existing employees might move to another job at another company or industry if they feel they aren’t being treated well and can do better elsewhere. It’s difficult to find the right people with the right personality to thrive in hospitality, and the cost of employee turnover is high.
I won’t go as far as to say you should treat your employees like you treat your guests, but you should do what you can to make sure employees know they are wanted and respected. Part of that is making accommodations for them from time to time, even if you aren’t necessarily legally required to do so.
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