When you are hiring, do a check and avoid a wreck

Karen Morris

Can we all agree that the process of hiring employees, particularly those with access to guests’ rooms, should always include a criminal background check? True, no matter who among your trusted employees recommends the applicant; true, no matter how impressed you are with the candidate at the interview; true, no matter how inconvenient or time-consuming the investigation might be; and true, though we might grumble at the cost.

The expense, time and trouble all pale when compared to the financial cost, damage to goodwill and time-consumption usurped by a lawsuit when the employee attacks, sexually abuses or steals from a guest. Just look at the sad tale of the former Flagship Hotel on Galveston Island, Texas.

The facts of the case are nothing short of creepy.1 A man and his two sons checked into the hotel for a summer vacation. They chose the facility in part because it was marketed as family-friendly. As they were checking in, the oldest son, age 15, noticed that the bellman was sending him nonverbal signals at the main entrance. The bellman was nodding his head upwards and mouthing words. Later that day, the boy left the hotel alone to walk along the beach and smoke a cigarette. The bellman followed him and told him there was a better place inside the hotel to finish the cigarette. The bellman led the boy into an empty banquet room. Once inside, the bellman locked the doors and turned off the lights. He then approached the boy, exposed himself and forced the boy to sexually fondle him, followed by masturbation.

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The bellman had been employed by the hotel for three months and was hired on the recommendation of another employee. No criminal background check was done. The hotel was thus inexcusably unaware of the bellman’s lengthy criminal history. It included multiple convictions of indecency with a child, sexual misconduct, possession of illegal drugs, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, theft and criminal trespass. Eek!

Not surprising, the boy and his parents sued the hotel. The grounds included negligent hiring, negligent retention and negligent supervision. The relevant law provides that an employer is negligent, and therefore liable for resulting injuries, if it hires, retains or fails to adequately supervise an employee who the employer knows, or by the exercise of reasonable care should have known, creates an unreasonable risk of harm to others. Stated differently, an employer must exercise reasonable care to ensure that its employees are competent and fit for the job. Here, if the hotel had undertaken the reasonable step of conducting a check, it would have known that the employee was not fit for the job and represented a significant threat to the wellbeing of its guests. 

The boy’s witnesses included a security expert who testified that a generally accepted practice in the hospitality industry is to perform pre-employment background checks of applicants whose positions will give them unsupervised access to guests and/or guestrooms. Those positions, of course, include a bellman. A psychologist testified to the “significant psychological difficulties” the boy experienced as a result of the assault.

The moral: Don’t cut corners when the safety of your guests is at stake. Thoroughly verify an applicant’s background before offering a job.

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