Gather Ye Rosebuds … Or Not? Sexual Harassment Law Blooms in Tennessee

One of the breakout shows this summer was HBO’s, “The Newsroom.” Like its aptly-chosen title, it features the goings on in a cable network nightly news show. And, like most television dramedies, it offers up great fodder for employment lawyers. If you want to learn how to sexually harass a subordinate, look no further than a recent episode of this series.

The show features life in a newsroom, however, the show is really about the convoluted romantic relationships of the cast. There is a sub-plot involving the junior executive producer, Jim, who falls in love with his assistant, Maggie, who has a boyfriend.

In episode 9 of The Newsroom, Jim’s supervisor encourages him to chase after his love interest Maggie – telling him, “Jim, gather ye rosebuds,” (an allusion to the 17th century poem by Robert Herrick). Did we mention that Jim is Maggie’s supervisor? So Jim’s supervisor is telling him that it is acceptable to pursue an employee who has indicated she is not interested. In other words, go ahead and pursue her romantically even though she has turned you down repeatedly. Unwanted sexual or romantic advances, especially from a supervisor to an underling, smacks of potential for sexual harassment.

There are sources that estimate that nearly one-third of relationships begin in the workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is likely because people spend many hours working and so have much less time and opportunity to meet people outside of the workplace. Therefore, it’s not unusual for love to bloom in the workplace. But watch out, because this rose has thorns.

Now, not every instance of being asked out on a date amounts to sexual harassment. But if the pursuer, who could be a man or a woman, asks the employee out repeatedly, won’t take no for an answer, makes the employee feel uncomfortable, interferes with the job, and especially if the pursuit escalates to unwanted physical touching, this may be sexual harassment.
If you are an employee and you are being pursued by a co-worker or supervisor who wants to pursue a romantic or sexual relationship with you, you may have been a victim of sexual harassment. What should you do?
• Tell the harasser that you are not interested. It’s best to do this in writing and a quick email is sufficient.
• Follow your employer’s workplace harassment policy and report the unwanted advances.
• If the harasser is your supervisor, you should report the harassment to the supervisor’s supervisor and to your Human Resources department.
• Once your report the harassment, it is illegal for the employer to retaliate against you.

If the harassment continues and you are interested in an evaluation of the facts of your situation, our Employment Law Team can help.

You can contact on of our Tennessee Labor Lawyers at any time.

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