San Francisco Enacts “Tourist Hotel” Ordinance Requiring New Cleaning and Disinfecting Protocols and Prohibiting Retaliation

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“Tourist hotels” in San Francisco must soon comply with Ordinance No. 208-20 enacted on October 9, 2020, which establishes cleaning and disease prevention standards and practices to help contain COVID-19. The ordinance also requires employers to provide training related to these standards for employees, grants employees work and anti-retaliation protections, and provides for administrative enforcement, financial penalties, and civil actions for violations.

What is a “Tourist Hotel”?

The ordinance defines “tourist hotel” as any building or set of buildings containing six or more guest rooms or suites intended for commercial tourist use by providing accommodations to transient guests for a nightly (or longer) basis.  The ordinance specifically exempts hotels procured, leased, or controlled by the City of San Francisco for purposes of sheltering individuals as part of its response to COVID-19 or any other contagious public health threat.

Requirements

The cleaning standards for tourist hotels include:

  • The establishment, implementation, and maintenance of written cleaning and disease prevention standards to minimize risk of transmission of contagious public health threats, including the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 (specific posting and promulgation requirements, including language requirements, apply);
  • Providing handwashing stations on every floor except in the case of housekeeping employees authorized to wash their hands in guest rooms;
  • Disinfecting porous and non-porous surfaces using the appropriate disinfectant;
  • Identification and cleaning of high-contact areas, items, or fixtures, including public and employee areas (lobbies, lounges, break and locker rooms, etc.), elevators, stairwells and escalators, restrooms, meeting rooms, multi-use items (keyboards, touchscreens, point-of-service systems, telephones, non-disposable menus, etc.), doors, dining and bar facilities, shipping and receiving areas, all items and furnishings in guest rooms, towels, and bed linens;
  • Installation of hand sanitizer dispensers at main entrances and exits used by employees and guests, and at other open high-contact public areas;
  • Cleaning and disinfection of restrooms in guest rooms at least once per day unless a guest requests less-frequent cleaning (no incentives may be offered to a guest to decline cleaning or request a less-frequent basis);
  • Maintenance of compliance logs, which must be made available to the San Francisco Department of Public Health if requested; and
  • Compliance with guidance and standards issued by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Cal/OSHA, the Centers for Disease Control, or other regulatory agencies or orders.

If a reasonable basis exists to believe a guest room was occupied by a guest infected with COVID-19 or any other public health threat, the tourist hotel must remove the guest room from use for seven days until the San Francisco Department of Public Health has confirmed its re-use is safe.  If the guest room is confirmed to have been exposed to COVID-19, a more stringent sanitization standard will apply.

The ordinance also imposes a number of work protections for employees.  For example, it requires employees be provided hand sanitizer, face coverings, gloves, and personal protective equipment necessary to perform their work.  Employees must also be given adequate time during their work hours to perform cleaning, disinfecting, and disease-prevention duties.  Those employees assigned cleaning and disinfecting duties must receive comprehensive and ongoing on-the-clock training on specific topics related to COVID-19 or other contagious public health threats. 

Enforcement of Requirements

Failure to comply with the ordinance will constitute a nuisance under San Francisco Health Code section 581.  This could result in, without limitation, a notice of violation and the administrative procedure associated with it under San Francisco Health Code section 596, citations under San Francisco Health Code 596.5, and criminal and civil penalties.

No Retaliation or Interference with Rights

Notably, the ordinance prohibits retaliation against employees who oppose any practice proscribed under the ordinance, participate in investigations or proceedings related to the ordinance, seek enforcement of their rights or another employee’s rights under the ordinance, or otherwise assert rights under the ordinance.  The ordinance also prohibits retaliation against an employee for refusing to perform work or for reporting working conditions they reasonably believe pose a personal health risk to themselves or others because of a failure to comply with the ordinance.  Interference with rights afforded by the ordinance is prohibited.   

Enforcement of Anti-Retaliation Provision

The ordinance permits employees to bring a civil action for claims of retaliation or interference.  An employee may be awarded actual damages, punitive damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

Bottom Line for Employers

The ordinance takes effect on November 8, 2020.  Employers in San Francisco should ensure their cleaning and disinfecting standards and procedures comply with the newly enacted ordinance.  In addition, employers should work with counsel to meet the ordinance’s notice and training requirements.  Because the ordinance contains an anti-retaliation provision, employers in San Francisco should ensure their managers are trained and should consider updating their employee handbooks.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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