Workers’ compensation laws allow for injured workers to receive compensation and benefits without suing their employers. This was and remains the way the system works since laws were first written a century ago. As a general rule workers injured on the job waive the right to sue their employers when they receive compensation through the system.
As stated in a recently published Reuters article, “New York state law allows employees to sue for additional compensation if they can prove their employer engaged in ‘gross negligence.’ But courts have held that gross negligence must include intentional misconduct on the part of the employer, and this is a high bar for a plaintiff to clear. ‘In order to show gross negligence, you need to show that the employer participated in the assault,’ said labour attorney Philip Berkowitz, of Littler Mendelson.”
The arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn for alleged sexual assault of a hotel maid has brought this issue to the forefront in the hospitality industry. As Strauss-Kahn pleaded not guilty to the alleged charges, hotel workers protested outside the New York Supreme Court. According to workers, past incidents when guests assaulted hotel staff were “swept under the rug”.
Failure to involve police or report incidents of assault does not necessarily equal gross negligence under New York law. Nevertheless, those in the hospitality industry are paying attention and changing the way staff complaints are handled. Hotel employees should be able to report to work and feel safe while performing their job duties. Proposed legislation would require panic buttons for all housekeeping staff. Security procedures and safety training are being reevaluated in the wake of this assault. These changes within the industry should improve safety and reduce the chances of staff being injured on the job.