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Paul Zimmerman
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Hotels in California May Be Days Away From Reopening: What Hoteliers Need to Know

Good news for hotels from the California Department of Public Health: beginning this coming Friday (June 12), they (along with restaurants and bars, gyms, film studios, and a host of other establishments) have been given the green light to reopen for business. But before jumping for joy, hoteliers must understand that the final say in terms of reopening belongs to each county within the state. That being said, in anticipation of vacancy signs being illuminated once again, the CDPH and Cal/OSHA released revised COVID-19 Hotel and Lodging Industry Guidance. By way of this alert, Michelman & Robinson shines a light on topics and some specifics from the extensive guidance that must be considered as hotels begin operations in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Plan Ahead

In anticipation of “business as usual,” hotel management is urged to establish written, worksite-specific COVID-19 prevention plans and designate an individual (or individuals) at every property to implement them. In doing so, comprehensive risk assessments should be undertaken of all work areas—this in order to ensure the safety of employees and guests alike. Along with proper planning and implementation, hoteliers should, among other things, provide adequate coronavirus-related training to all staff members; identify contact information for local health departments; and routinely evaluate workplaces for plan compliance.

In addition to health and safety-related planning, hoteliers must be ready with phased return to work schedules. At the same time, they should see to it that employees are being returned to work in a non-discriminatory manner. Also, to the extent job responsibilities may change as hotel business ramps up (with exempt employees potentially taking on more non-exempt duties), employee misclassification becomes a potential pitfall, which is why it is crucial that counsel review any return-to-work plans.

Employee Screening, Training, and Related Protocol

Appropriate employee training regarding COVID-19 and its prevention are critical. Along those lines, hotel employers should train staff to perform workplace screenings (e.g., temperature and symptom checks), and emphasize the importance of employees not coming to work if they are experiencing any coronavirus symptoms (read: frequent cough, fever, difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, or recent loss of taste or smell, or if they or someone they live with have been diagnosed with COVID-19). Training should cover issues of privacy as well, and the limits of what type of screening questions may be asked. Even the most well-meaning of employees may subject a hotel to liability for asking questions beyond the scope of what is permitted by law.

Because a workplace free of disease, especially COVID-19, is essential for many reasons, not least of which is providing a level of comfort for employees and guests, hoteliers are encouraged to do all of the following:

  • Either provide temperature and symptom checks for workers (and vendors) upon their arrival at work (note that screeners and employees should wear face coverings for the screenings), or require self-screening at home
  • Instruct sick or symptomatic workers to stay home
  • Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for use when necessary and encourage employees to wear face coverings and disposable gloves if and when appropriate

Other items that must be cemented in the minds of employees include, the necessity of frequent handwashing with soap and water, the use of hand sanitizer, physical distancing, and the proper use of PPE. Hotel management should also inform staff about leave benefits and requirements.

Guest Relations

Given the level of precaution necessary in the wake of COVID-19, guests should be informed of the coronavirus-related policies and procedures in place prior to their arrival at any given hotel property, particularly those that impact the guest experience.

Among other things, guests should understand that:

  • Reservations can be canceled if a guest is symptomatic
  • There may be new check-in procedures to contend with, along with physical distancing requirements in common areas
  • Common areas and guest rooms may be subject to cleaning and disinfecting schedules
  • They may be screened for symptoms upon arrival and asked to use hand sanitizer and to wear face coverings
  • Baggage will be delivered when guests are not in their rooms, when possible

In addition, to enhance the guest experience and promote safety, hotels should:

  • Make certain that guests enter hotel properties through doors that are opened (either automatically, by an employee, or left propped open)
  • Have guests queue outside to maintain at least six feet of physical distance between persons checking in
  • Instruct employees not to open guests car doors or taxis
  • Make room service, laundry and dry-cleaning services, and amenity deliveries contactless when practical
  • Install hand sanitizer dispensers at key guest and employee areas (e.g., reception, lobbies, restaurant entrances, etc.)

Clean, Clean, Clean

More than ever, a clean workplace is vital, especially in the hospitality space. As such, lobbies, check-in areas, public restrooms, elevators, stairwells, and hallways must be frequently and thoroughly cleaned. The same is true for those places that guests never see, such as employee break rooms and lunch areas, changing areas, loading docks, kitchens, and the like.

The CDPH and Cal/OSHA guidance goes to great lengths to specify what cleaning protocols hotels should adhere to, all of which should be followed to a T. At a glance, the guidelines cover disinfecting (including areas not to overlook); selecting and stocking cleaning supplies; the use of HEPA filters; maintaining safe water and air filtration systems; prohibiting employees from sharing equipment; and recommending the way in which housekeeping should approach guest rooms. Hoteliers are also told to remove magazines and other reusable collateral from guest rooms; clean in-room kitchen items between each guest stay; transport guests’ linens (whether used or not) in single-use, sealed bags; and launder those linens at a high temperature in accordance with CDC guidelines.

In an abundance of caution, CDPH and Cal/OSHA further recommends that rooms remain vacant for 24 to 72 hours after a guest has departed, and in the event of a presumptive case of COVID-19, that guest’s room should be removed from service and quarantined.

Physical Distancing

The CDPH and Cal/OSHA guidance addresses physical distancing at length, and hotel management and employees must understand and follow the recommendations (e.g., maintaining six feet between employees, guests, and the public; using physical partitions, signs, and floor markings; staggering employee start times and breaks; modifying duties to minimize contact with customers and other employees; redesigning workspaces and common areas to allow for at least six feet distancing, when possible; limiting the number of individuals riding in elevators at any given time; and avoiding person-to-person physical contact).

Miscellaneous Considerations

As mentioned, the revised guidance issued by CDPH and Cal/OSHA is comprehensive, and hotel owners and operators should take the time to review it carefully. When they do, they will see that the exhaustive list of items covered includes details that may or may not apply to them. For instance, the guidelines hit upon hotel swimming pools and how to keep them (and related equipment and seating areas) safe and sanitized (note that saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs are to remain closed for the time being). Even hotel-operated golf courses are addressed—the guidance states that hoteliers should only allow one player per cart, except for immediate family and people who cohabitate, and increase tee time spacing.

The hospitality lawyers at M&R are always available to answer any questions hoteliers may have about the CDPH and Cal/OSHA guidance, COVID-19-related operational restrictions, employee and guest relations, or anything else that may be top of mind during these unique and trying times.

This blog post is not offered, and should not be relied on, as legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.