The National Park Service manages 84 million acres in the United States, including locations in Tennessee. The service functions within the Department of the Interior, led by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has publicly pledged to take strong action against sexual harassers within federal workplaces under his control. A man currently holding the highest position at the NPS due to no one being nominated to lead the agency has fallen under investigation after an anonymous complaint about his behavior.
One challenge that employees of Tennessee companies who are victims of sexual harassment at work may face is that in many cases, the behavior does not reach a legal standard that permits action to be taken. Reports of harassment at Nike that have caused several executives to resign or announce their resignation is one example. They include going to strip clubs at staff outings, email comments about a woman's breasts and a number of reports of being overlooked for promotion.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and similar state groups reported more than 9,600 workplace sexual harassment complaints. However, that number is 41 percent lower than the more than 16,000 sexual harassment complaints in 1997. While that may sound like a good thing, workers in Tennessee have not likely experienced a 41 percent drop in harassment. Instead, the complaint process is largely being handled behind closed doors.
Freelance or contract workers are often treated differently than employees under state and federal employment law. For instance, a Tennessee freelancer can't sue for gender discrimination or harassment. This could lead such an individual to stop pursuing their passion or otherwise slow their potential for growth in their chosen career. As the number of freelance or contract workers continues to rise, there are questions being raised about how to better protect them in the workplace.
A new sexual harassment reporting system from a nonprofit called Callisto may make it easier to protect tech founders from being harassed by investors. It will allow those in Tennessee and throughout the country to make allegations on an anonymous basis while posting information about potential abusers. It is expected to go live in the summer of 2018, and there is already a version aimed at helping those on college campuses report harassment and abuse.
Sexual harassment can be a serious concern and an all-too-frequent occurrence for workers in Tennessee and across the United States. Indeed, a 2016 report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that only 10 percent of employees subjected to sexual harassment on the job file an official complaint with the agency. Approximately 90 percent of people who have suffered workplace harassment do not file formal claims because they have a well-founded fear of retaliation in their workplace or concern that they will not be believed.
Employment rights of Tennessee workers could be expanding if the nation follows the lead of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. The federal appeals court for New York, Connecticut and Vermont recently ruled that employers may no longer discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation.
Black and older women as well as people who work at larger companies in Tennessee and throughout the country may be more likely to report sexual harassment than young white women. Data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission indicates that while from 1997 to 2017 there was a drop from 16,000 to 9,600 in sexual harassment complaints, not all employees have benefited equally from this drop.
Two state legislators have put forward a bill that would extend protection from sexual harassment to independent contractors. Scandals emerging from the state's music industry prompted them to take action to help members of the workplace who fall through loopholes in employment law because they are contractors instead of employees. Current law only allows contract laborers to file complaints about sexual harassment if their contract specifically addresses the topic. Without legal protection, a contractor could risk a career to come forward with an allegation against an employer.
Most employers in Tennessee and around the country have procedures in place that allow workers to report sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior, but a study from the Society of Human Resources Management suggests that they are rarely used. According to SHRM, incidents involving sexual harassment are only reported by victims or witnesses about 25 percent of the time. The study also revealed that workers are often unaware that their employers have reporting procedures in place.