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What should I do if my boss is sexually harassing me in Tennessee?

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Mathew R. Zenner - Employment Litigation - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Mathew R. Zenner

Located in Brentwood, TNMcCune Zenner Happell, PLLC

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Before discussing what steps an individual should take to handle sexual harassment from their boss or supervisor, it is essential to define what sexual harassment is, and what it is not. Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination which typically arises in two situations, quid pro quo sexual harassment and sexual harassment in the form of a hostile work environment.   

  • Quid pro quo sexual harassment

Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs when your boss or supervisor makes job benefits or continued employment contingent upon the receipt of sexual favors. Your employer is liable for quid pro quo sexual harassment.  You should contact an attorney immediately if your boss or supervisor expressly or impliedly conditions job benefits (for example a raise, promotion, or continued employment) on your succumbing to his or her sexual advances. 

  • Hostile work environment sexual harassment

Hostile work environment sexual harassment occurs when gender-based comments or actions are sufficiently pervasive or severe such that it alters the terms and conditions of your employment. If the hostile work environment has resulted in a tangible employment action by your boss or supervisor (for example a pay cut, demotion, or a change in job assignment) your employer is liable. 

What to do after suffering harassment

People can say or do offensive things that do not rise to the level of changing your employment. The conduct must be offensive to you and others, and there are several things you should do to protect yourself.

1. Follow company policy first.

If you have not suffered a tangible employment action as noted above, your employer still may be liable, but it can escape liability if it can show:

  • That it exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior.
  • That you unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or that you unreasonably failed to avoid the harm otherwise.

Therefore, following company policy in this type of situation is essential. It is likely that your company has a plan in place to report sexual harassment, usually to its Human Resources department or some higher management.  You must follow the policy, report the conduct, and allow the company an opportunity to investigate and promptly take appropriate actions.  In some cases, reporting the conduct can cause the behavior to escalate, or the offender may react by retaliating against the victim. If this happens, contact a lawyer immediately.  If the company does not have a policy in place, or has a policy but fails to take any actions after your complaint you should also contact a lawyer.    

2. Discuss your case with a lawyer

A lawyer can help you in a lot of ways. First, they can tell you whether what’s happening does rise to the level of sexual harassment. There has been a rise in harassment cases over the past years, and courts have set a precedent for what types of offenses make a real legal issue. For instance, courts have nearly unanimously decided that a few off-color comments alone don’t rise to the level of sexual harassment.

3. Keep a journal

Even before you speak to a lawyer, you should begin keeping a journal. Sexual harassment cases are very fact specific.  You cannot prevail by merely asserting that “He says offensive stuff all the time.” It’s crucial that you have a list of particular conduct or comments with dates, times and witnesses. This journal can be in any format: voice memos, spreadsheet, paper journal – whatever is easiest for you.   This information will be invaluable if you ultimately have to file a lawsuit.

Calling an attorney is a crucial part of getting justice after harassment 

There are many unique things about sexual harassment law. It is nearly impossible for a person to bring a case alone. You need the help of a sexual harassment attorney who has taken on these types of cases before and been successful.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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