Back To CourseHospitality & Tourism Management Training
12 chapters | 114 lessons
Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.
Tony, the general manager of a 350-room hotel, was becoming concerned as he read an email from his company's attorney. Despite having been terminated for well-documented insubordination and job abandonment, a former housekeeper named Tracy had lodged a wrongful termination complaint alleging that Tony had subjected her to gender and age discrimination, illegal pay practices, and retaliation for having protested unsafe working conditions.
As he began to collect and review the data in Tracy's employee file, Tony knew that the outcome of the case would be determined based on the quality of his record-keeping in five of the most important categories of labor law including discrimination, pay practices, labor unions, employee safety, and retaliation.
In the United States, labor laws and regulations come from multiple (and sometimes overlapping) government agencies. Tracy's complaints ultimately involved three separate agencies, but her first complaint was filed with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is the gatekeeper for employee complaints of discrimination, sexual harassment, and any retaliation associated with these complaints. The EEOC would likely side with Tracy if she could prove that she had been terminated because of her race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, or age. A few states would also protect Tracy based on sexual orientation.
On the other hand, the EEOC would likely side with Tony's company if Tony can prove that Tracy's termination was the result of misconduct or insubordination and not because of discrimination or retaliation. To prove this, Tony should have maintained meticulous documentation of Tracy's performance problems. In most cases, a pattern of poor performance backed up by solid documentation of events like remedial training, coaching, write-ups, or final written warnings is enough to satisfy Tony's requirement to dispute Tracy's claim.
Regardless of who the EEOC sides with, Tracy can still sue Tony's company in federal court, but she cannot file that suit until the EEOC has exhausted its efforts to resolve the problem. If the EEOC does not find evidence of discrimination or retaliation, Tracy is presented with a document called a 'right to sue.' When the 'right to sue' letter is issued, the EEOC has formally concluded their investigation and the parties have the right to file suit in court.
Tracy's allegations of unlawful pay practices would be evaluated considering the single most important law governing labor practices at the federal level - the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Almost all hospitality organizations must comply with the provisions of the FLSA. Tracy must prove that her employer violated one or more of the major provisions of the FLSA. Among other things, Tracy could try to prove that:
The FLSA does not require that Tony's company give Tracy paid time off, rest periods, incentive pay, or benefits. In addition to those matters that are excluded from the FLSA, the law does not require Tony's company pay Tracy for unused time off nor does it require that the company provide her with a specific reason for her termination. In many states, an 'at will' employment law explicitly states that both the employee or employer are permitted to terminate the employment relationship for any reason or for no reason at all. In states where this is law, employers usually benefit from being cautious in providing reasons for a termination. Many hospitality industry employers would opt for a generic statement such as 'it just isn't working out.'
Tracy's allegations included a few elements not covered by her claims of discrimination and illegal pay practices. Specifically, Tracy claimed she was illegally terminated in retaliation for having complained about unsafe working conditions. Concerns about workplace safety are the responsibility of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA issues and enforces regulations related to workplace safety. It also investigates workplace accidents resulting in serious injury or death. The law universally protects Tracy from retaliation for making complaints to OSHA or for participating in their investigations.
Tracy's claim of retaliation requires Tony's company to provide evidence that Tracy's termination was not because of complaints made to OSHA or for cooperating with their inquiries. Employees and employers should remember that allegations of employer misconduct made in 'good faith' do not have to be true to establish that retaliation occurred. If Tracy lodged a complaint in good faith about what she thought was an unlawful practice and was subsequently fired for making the complaint, it does not matter if her original allegation is unfounded. Her termination may still constitute unlawful retaliation.
Some hospitality employees are members of a labor union. In most cases, union employees work under a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that outlines specific conditions for employment.
In the hospitality industry, a CBA will usually have provisions that outline things like pay, benefits, work hours, job security, and a grievance process that must be followed if either side believes that there has been a breach of the agreement. One of the largest unions in the hospitality industry is UNITE HERE (several years ago, HERE, or Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, merged with UNITE, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees). If Tracy is a member of UNITE HERE or a similar labor union, she will likely have specific rights to due process before termination. Both Tracy's union and Tony's company would be bound to follow the grievance process outlined in the CBA. If Tracy is a unionized employee, it is critical that Tony understand and abide by the terms outlined in the CBA.
Specifically, the CBA may contain provisions such as:
If Tony violates the terms of the CBA, the union can (and most likely will) force his company into a formal dispute resolution process that is costly for both sides.
There are five major labor law issues that impact managers in the hospitality industry. Discrimination and retaliation are complaints filed with the EEOC alleging that an employer treated the employee in a manner that was different from other individuals in the same job type. Employers can best avoid these types of complaints by documenting well and by treating all employees in the same job role in a similar manner.
Pay practices are outlined in the FLSA and contain the rules regarding work hours and wages. Complaints of unlawful pay practices are filed when an employee believes that they have been underpaid for an unlawful reason. For employers, avoiding these types of complaints means ensuring that overtime pay is correctly applied, that the employer is paying the minimum wage, and by properly classifying an employee as tipped or non-tipped.
Labor unions are groups of workers who unite and appoint representatives to negotiate with employers on their behalf. When the negotiations between management and workers are finalized and agreed to, a collective bargaining agreement is the resulting formal contract that binds both sides to honor the terms that were agreed upon. UNITE HERE is a common service industry labor union for hospitality workers.
Finally, OSHA regulates workplace safety by issuing regulations and investigating major injuries or deaths on the job. Employees cannot be terminated for making complaints about an unsafe workplace nor can they be fired for participating in an investigation. Hospitality management staff should be very familiar with OSHA regulations that apply to their particular business type.
For the best chance of avoiding labor law complaints, employers should document thoroughly and should ensure that they are enforcing all company policies equally across all employees in the same job role within the organization.
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Back To CourseHospitality & Tourism Management Training
12 chapters | 114 lessons