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Bill expands definition of "employee" under sexual harassment law

Sexual assault in the television and film industry has come to the forefront of our nation's news over the past few months, with the "#MeToo" movement gaining steam nationwide. However, some in Tennessee may wonder how this movement will affect the music industry, especially given the state's prominence in the country music scene.

This issue is not going unnoticed by politicians in Tennessee. A bill has been introduced in the State Senate and House of Representatives that addresses the issue of sexual harassment. Under the bill, not only will employees be afforded protections under the law against sexual harassment, but so too would contract workers. This includes expanding the protections available under Tennessee law to recording artists, producers, songwriters and others in the music industry.

As the law currently stands, it is difficult for a recording artist to claim the protections enjoyed by employees, because they are not considered employees in the eyes of the law. Under the new bill, a contract worker would be defined as one who has the right to exert control over the performance of a contract for services, who has the right of discretion as to how this service will be performed, who is normally engaged in a business that has been independently established and who exerts control with regards to when and where the performance takes place, provides the supplies needed in the performance and who performs skilled work that is not ordinarily used in the normal course of the employer's operations.

Keep in mind that this is a state bill, so it cannot alter the definition of sexual harassment under federal law. Under federal law, sexual harassment in the workplace must rise to the level of being both pervasive and severe in order for it to be unlawful. Also, federal laws regarding sexual harassment in the workplace only applies to employers who have at least 15 employees.

It remains to be seen if this bill will become law, and for the time being the current definition of employee with regards to sexual harassment in the workplace stands. However, bills like this do indicate that the public perception of sexual harassment in the workplace is shifting to protect the rights of victims who have been sexually harassed at work and change a culture that is harmful to many.

Source: npr, "Sexual Harassment In Nashville Spurs A New Bill To Extend Protections To Artists," Andrew Flanagan, Feb. 21, 2018

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