By: Jay P. Krupin and Kara M. Maciel

Last week, on November 9, 2010, housekeepers employed by Hyatt Hotels filed complaints with OSHA alleging injuries sustained on the job. The complaints were filed in eight cities across the country, including Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Long Beach, San Antonio, Honolulu and Indianapolis.  Similar OSHA actions may occur in Boston, NYC, DC, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Miami, and Orlando with higher concentrations of hotel properties. This is the first time that employees of a single private employer have filed multi-city OSHA complaints, and it appears to be a coordinated effort with organized labor, UNITE HERE.

The housekeepers allege injuries arising from their daily room quotas and argue that cleaning rooms and lifting heavy mattresses lead to accidents and workplace injuries. The complaints allege that workers are discouraged from reporting injuries due to fear of retaliation and that monetary rewards for having a safe workplace discourages complaints. The housekeepers recommend several solutions, including changes to fitted sheets, mops and other equipment used to clean a room, as well as a cap on their daily room quota.

Hospitality employers must be on alert of similar OSHA complaints at its properties. OSHA has begun an aggressive enforcement campaign against employers when it unveiled its “Severe Violator Enforcement Program” (“SVEP”) earlier this year. Under SVEP, OSHA will target those employers who disregard their obligations through willful, repeated, or multiple violations. This will lead to a significant increase in OSHA inspections at workplaces that not only have a history of health and safety violations, but also allows for nationwide inspections of related workplaces. Thus, if OSHA believes that the violation at a particular hotel is indicative of a pattern of non-compliance, then it will launch investigations into other hotels owned or operated by the same company. This company “profiling” should put all hotels on high alert.

In light of the significant penalties and the new focus on enforcement from the government and labor unions, it is important for hotels to take worker safety issues seriously and to have a plan in place should OSHA launch an investigation into their respective properties. Additionally, because OSHA investigators are more likely to approach local managers at each property, it is important that these managers receive proper training on OSHA regulations and how to comply with an OSHA investigation.

Accordingly, hotels should take the necessary steps now to ensure compliance with applicable federal and state requirements through attorney-client self-audits.