The Knoxville, Tennessee, workforce has remained strong in terms of economic opportunities. The area holds the distinction of maintaining a high employment rate, amidst the overall recovery from an ongoing national recession. The City of Knoxville government website describes several successive years of Knoxville being honored as one of the “Best Big Cities” to live in, “Top 10 Outdoor Adventure” locations, “Happiest Cities to Work in” and even as “one of three cities in the country to have recovered from the recession.” Boasting many desirable attractions for any new resident, like “affordable housing, health care costs below the national average, a low crime rate, and a pleasant climate with lakes and mountains,” Knoxville maintains its reputation as an excellent place to call home.
The city’s low unemployment rate also helps maintain stability to Knoxville residents. According to the U.S. Department of Labor statistics for Knoxville, TN, employment sectors include construction, government, manufacturing, services, trade, and transportation. These varied sectors create a city with a diverse and multitalented workforce. The Knoxville employment statistics point to steady growth within the last decade, although more recent unemployment numbers reveal a slightly higher average than the national 5.5 percent.
With so much positive movement, the employment statistics tell a story of Knoxville focused on growth, stability, and increased popularity throughout the state. For those residents who may experiencing a different reality, one where their rights may be challenged. Employees should know their right to assert the high standards afforded by the state of Tennessee.
Employees should know their rights against experiencing any type of workplace harassment. Knoxville employees may work in varied employment sectors, but the rights against harassment are maintained across job descriptions and employment fields. In any job, harassment is not only intolerable from the perspective of the law, but from the point of view of the person experiencing it.
What is harassment?
Many employees experiencing an uncomfortable workplace environment might question whether it rises to the level of hostility or legally recognized harassment. Does a steady stream of off-color humor count? Do workplace policies that seem to condone hurtful behavior equal prohibited acts? What about suspicions of retaliation for speaking up?
The state of Tennessee defines workplace harassment by first defining categories considered as protected classes. The state’s policy prohibiting harassment includes unequal and unlawful treatment of an individual on the basis of a person’s:
- National origin;
- Age (40 and over);
- Religion or creed;
- Disability; or,
- Veteran’s status.
The policy includes prohibitions against “any other category protected by state and/or federal civil rights laws… and any unwelcome verbal, written, physical conduct, or electronic communication that either degrades or shows hostility or aversion towards a person because of (the above mentioned categories).”
For any further questions about which classes of employees fall under the law’s protection, seek legal counsel from a competent employment harassment attorney in Knoxville.
What types of behaviors are prohibited?
While diversity of experience and expression may be a hallmark of a healthy workplace, certain actions may rise to the level of harassment. Unfortunately, individuals engaged in such activities may not perceive their behaviors, words, or actions as being harmful or illegal. Nevertheless, Knoxville employees have legal rights to guard them from harassing interference with work performance.
A possible troublesome aspect of seeking legal counsel may be the ability to identify and document prohibited behaviors. The State Department of Human Resources has created a PDF document that may be useful to employees concerned that they are experiencing harassment. The following is a modified list of examples of harassing behaviors:
- Actions that have the effect of “undermining a person’s authority or work performance because of the person’s protected characteristics, such as age or religion;”
- Allowing co-workers and/or supervisors to use “stereotypes or assumptions to guide decision-making about a person’s career;”
- Any instances of “unwelcome touching or near-touching, which can encompass leaning over, cornering, hugging, or pinching, sexual innuendos, teasing and other sexual talk such as jokes, personal inquiries, persistent unwanted courting and sexist put-downs;”
- Slurs and jokes about a class of persons;
- Email or other messages that include “epithets, slurs, jokes or remarks that are derogatory, demeaning, threatening or suggestive to a class of persons or a particular person or that promote stereotypes of a class of persons;”
- Explicit or offensive photographs or other images “that are sexually suggestive or that reflect disparagingly upon a class of persons or a particular person;” or
- “Derogatory remarks about a person’s national origin, race, language, or accent.”
These examples are not exhaustive and intend to point workers in the direction of distinguishing permissible and impermissible activities. Even when the harassment is unintentional, a claim may still be filed against the offending party or parties.
Types of harassment
The most common type of actionable workplace harassment lawsuit is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment, as stated above, includes any unwelcome touching or near-touching, sexual innuendos, explicit or offensive images that are sexually suggestive, teasing or general conversations with sexual undertones, and even derogatory and sexist comments. Despite the seemingly obvious and egregious nature of these types of prohibited activities, the law shifts the burden of proof to the person filing a lawsuit.
The burden of proof basically requires providing evidence to the court or jury. Evidence that is primarily provided in a sexual harassment claim is presented as any testimony from co-workers, supervisors, and the employee. In addition to testimony, providing any emails, photographs, or other correspondence can help develop a bigger picture of the sexual harassment.
Other types of impermissible conduct falls under the terminology of hostile work environment. This type of environment encompasses any other activity that doesn’t fall under the category of sexual harassment. Similar to the burden of proof in a sexual harassment claim, a plaintiff maintains the burden of providing evidence to the decision-maker. Again, evidence includes testimony and any written correspondence.
Following up with a harassment claim
Although reporting sexual harassment and other workplace harassment may seem intimidating and overwhelming, it’s important to know what legal options are available. Tennessee laws say that no one should have to live with workplace harassment. By documenting instances of harassment, the law can help protect employees who experience harassment and a hostile work environment.
Proving the impact of such treatment and retaining respect, dignity, and the ability to make a living remain the priority of the attorneys of Hodges, Doughty, & Carson, PLLC. Speaking with an experienced employment harassment attorney can make the difference between intimidation and planning for progress.