Three legal and human resources experts share employee management mistakes common to the hotel industry and their solutions.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Managing employees is no easy task, especially in an industry like hospitality that requires a large number of employees to provide the services guests need at the property level and the operational processes that keep the company running at the corporate level.
Hotel News Now reached out to legal and human resources experts to ask them to share a common mistake they’ve seen in the hotel industry and what steps companies should take to avoid them.
Managing religious accommodations
Andria Ryan, partner, Fisher & Phillips
“Last week, a federal jury in Florida reminded us that navigating the minefield of religious accommodation issues can be difficult and failure to act properly can be financially devastating. In Jean Pierre v. Park Hotels & Resorts, Inc., a federal jury handed down a $21.5 million verdict in a suit brought by a dishwasher alleging religious discrimination when she was fired after refusing to work on Sundays.
“The basic framework of religious accommodation cases requires the employee to prove: 1) a sincerely held religious belief, 2) that the employer was notified of that belief, and 3) a request for an accommodation of that belief. The burden then shifts to the employer to prove that its failure to accommodate the request was necessary because doing so would create an undue hardship.
“There are three general rules when faced with a request for an accommodation of an employee’s religious beliefs. First, no matter how unusual a particular ‘belief’ may seem to you, courts have been extremely reticent to find an individual’s religious beliefs are phony. Do not simply ignore a request because of questions about the sincerity of the belief.
“Second, just saying ‘no’ is a recipe for disaster. While the law does not mandate that you honor the employee’s most desirable accommodation, a good faith effort to accommodate is required. Consider using a formal procedure for requesting and reviewing accommodation requests.
“Third, each request for religious accommodation will turn on the facts of that situation. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Even small differences in facts can lead to substantially different outcomes.”
Lack of management training
Lara Shortz, partner, Michelman & Robinson
“One of the most common mistakes we see in the hotel industry relative to employee issues has to do with management training—or, more precisely, the lack thereof. The hotel space is known for promotion from within, and staff-level employees are oftentimes elevated to manager or supervisory positions without adequate training to address the panoply of problems inherent in the business. This can impact a hotel property in many different ways.
“Consequently, hotel employers should make certain that managers/supervisors sufficiently grasp and are effectively trained to handle questions regarding leave (including the necessity to keep HR in the loop); wage and hour issues (for example, meal and rest breaks, overtime and off-the-clock work that can expose a hotel to liability); employee classification (management with hiring authority should know not to hire exempt employees for non-exempt, or hourly, positions and vice versa); employee relations (supervisors should also understand when to involve HR or upper management in any given employee-related matter, such as workplace harassment); and the prevalence of language barriers among hotel workers (managers must be able to communicate with non-native English speakers and know to escalate issues to ensure HR involvement to the extent that even seemingly minor issues can quickly spiral to big problems).”
Labor shortage and hiring standards
Debra Cannon, director of the school of hospitality, Georgia State University
“The shortage of employees is resulting in inconsistencies in employee selection processes and execution of performance management policies throughout the hotel industry. This is not a problem unique to the hotel industry but is found in all business sectors with a tight labor market.
“Understandably businesses have to operate and be able to serve guests. If a manager has a job opening list in the double digits, which today would not be unrealistic, it is not unreasonable to believe that the selection process might be shortened to expedite filling positions. Some companies are more stringent in consciously working to avoid compromising their established selection methods, but an underlying current for many is to hire quickly in order to not lose applicants to other companies. Likewise, employers are more apt with the tight labor market to overlook minor to moderate employee infractions such as tardiness, improper call-off procedures or sloppy work performance. The rationale is it is better to have a less-than-average employee in the position than no employee at all.
“Managers are not happy in overlooking infractions but they want to retain employees. As one manager related to me, ‘I called an employee into my office to talk about some relatively minor problems that could have been corrected. I had not completed the first sentence when the employee told me to not bother because he could get a job down the street with lower expectations. He walked out and quit on the spot.’ The concern is the short-term and long-term consequences: lowering of performance standards through improper selection, compromises in training, impact on co-worker morale and setting a precedent that will make later corrective actions more difficult.
“Retention of quality employees is essential in avoiding the impact of a tight labor market on performance standards and guest service. Fortunately, there are those hotel companies who have heightened their efforts on recognizing and rewarding top performers. Unfortunately, there need to be more hotel companies who guard against compromising quality processes.”