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Blog>Guides>What Is Considered Sexual Harassment in Texas?

What Is Considered Sexual Harassment in Texas?

Article index

Overview

  • Definitions of sexual harassment from the perspective of Texas’ new law

  • Understanding the implications of Texas’ new sexual harassment laws

  • How to respond to sexual harassment in the workplace as a Texas resident

Introduction

While romantic stories that bloom in the office are common, unwelcome sexual advances are also part of the everyday workplace. When such behavior becomes persistent, you have a case of sexual harassment on your hands. Fortunately, you can always take action, whether you’re a victim or a witness experiencing sexually offensive conduct.

The #MeToo campaign of 2017 raised critical conversations across the country about sexual harassment in the workplace. Consequently, the Lone Star State rose to the occasion by updating its laws and definitions to better protect employees.

However, as a Texas resident, understanding this law is central to protecting yourself from unwelcome sexual advances or sexual harassment in the workplace. This article will discuss the conditions that constitute sexual harassment in Texas, the laws protecting you from it, who can be held responsible, and how to respond to sexual harassment in your workplace.

What Is Considered Sexual Harassment in Texas?

Texas regards sexual harassment as unwanted sexual requests or demands — including inappropriate and offensive sexual conversations, behaviors, and physical advances — that prevent you from being able to safely work and contribute in a safe environment. For conduct to be deemed sexual harassment in Texas, it must be unwelcome and reasonably interfere with your performance at work and working conditions.

Some keynotes regarding sexual assault in Texas are:

  • Sexual harassment is not gender-specific; all genders can be victims or perpetrators.

  • The offender can include a direct supervisor or supervisors from other teams or departments. The harasser can also be other agents of your employer, colleagues, or clients.

  • Sexual harassment complaints do not have to come directly from the victim of unwanted behaviors. Anyone affected by it has a right to report it or file a complaint.

  • Any sexual conduct reported as sexual harassment must be unwanted.

  • Discrimination claims have to affect work performance.

Furthermore, the great state of Texas regards adverse work conditions meted out in retaliation for rejecting these unwanted advances as sexual harassment. However, light teases, offhand comments, or any unwelcome behavior that occurs once or in isolated incidents may not be sexual harassment. When you sense sexual harassment by an employer or colleague, you’re encouraged to confront the offender and ask for it to stop. When such behavior persists, you then report to HR.

Laws That Protect Employees from Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Both U.S. federal and Texas state laws are clear in their stand against sexual harassment. The fundamental laws that protect employees from sexual harassment during hiring and discharge of duty at the workplace are:

  • Texas Labor Code Sec. 21.106. The Texas Commission on Human Rights protects employees from being treated differently and unfairly because of their sex, pregnancy, childbirth, and similar health conditions.

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act incriminates employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, and national origin. The law ensures that employers are more objective and hire based on merit rather than prejudice, and punishes unlawful employment practices.

What Behaviors Are Considered Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

Sexual harassment can take many forms. Some are explicit, while others are more surreptitious. The following are different behaviors that constitute sexual harassment in the workplace.

  • Sharing sexually suggestive images or videos

  • Inappropriate and unwelcome physical touches

  • Unwanted and pervasive requests for dates

  • Demand for sexual favors

  • Sending sexually inappropriate and upsetting messages, emails, notes, or letters

  • Offensive sexual gestures

  • Pervasive sexual comments or jokes

  • Inappropriate discussions of sexual experiences

  • Retaliation for turning down sexual advances

Why the New Harassment Law in Texas Is Significant

Following the #MeToo movement, Texas, a state known for prioritizing employer interest, expanded its protection of employees against sexual harassment. Texas Governor Greg Abbot signed two new bills (SB 45 and HB 21) with significant consequences in Texas workplaces — especially in major cities like Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio.

The new Texas laws expand on the definition of who an employer is. Previous Texas laws regarded an employer as an individual with a staff of at least 15 individuals — making reporting sexual harassment in small establishments almost impossible in Texas courts. The SB 45 bill of Section 21.141 of the Texas Labor Code now describes an employer as a person who hires one or more employees.

The same bill changes individual liability in sexual harassment claims. The law now states that an employer is an individual who “acts in the interests of an employer in relation to an employee.” Therefore, individual employees like supervisors or managers will face punishment if found guilty of sexual harassment claims. This new anti-harassment policy contrasts the standing premise, as it significantly widens who can be held responsible for sexual assault.

A woman holding up a sign obscuring her face that says "#MeToo."

The responsibility of the company has also advanced. The law in Texas now holds a company (employer) accountable for sexual harassment if it was aware of such harassment and did not immediately take the proper and corrective measures.

The HB 21 bill, on the other hand, extends the duration with which you can file sexual harassment complaints with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC).

The TWC is the Texas governmental organization dedicated to enforcing your rights as a worker in the state. The commission investigates sexual harassment claims in workplaces in Texas. It takes action on behalf of harassed employees against their employers. You must make a complaint to the TWC first before filing a claim of sexual harassment against an establishment with less than 15 employees.

The extension granted by the HB 21 bill increases the window to report to the TWC from 180 days to 300 days after perceived sexual harassment conduct happens. Since going into effect on September 21, 2020, every Texas employer has been obligated to take more responsibility. The bills seek to eradicate sexual harassment conducts and create a safer environment for Texas workers.

Who Is Liable for Sexual Harassment in Texas?

Thanks to the improved and more extensive Texas sexual harassment laws, individuals who are the real perpetrators of sexual harassment in the work environment can now be held liable and punished when found guilty.

The SB 45 bill has extended who an employer is to cover, such as individuals and other staff members who work directly on behalf of the organization’s interest. Staff members include directors, managers, human resources staff, supervisors, and other company representatives. This group of individuals can now personally feel the total weight of the law when found guilty of alleged sexual harassment.

How to Respond to Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace can leave you confused about what action to take. The steps outlined below can be of significant help in such a situation.

Reach Out to Others

A sexual harassment encounter in the workplace is never easy to live down or deal with. The psychological impact alone can be devastating. Therefore, it helps if you share your experience with trusted colleagues, friends, and family members.

A conversation with your loved ones about your encounter can help clear your head. By providing you the requisite support to deal with the experience, you have better clarity on approaching the situation, what legal advice to seek, and more. Discussing with your friends and family can serve as a testimony. Furthermore, your friends and family can serve as witnesses and corroborate your story when needed.

Document the Harassment

Sexual harassment by its definition is pervasive, except in extreme circumstances. In both cases, you will need to objectively convince various authorities of the harassment you have experienced. Such conviction requires proof and necessitates the need to document the harassment.

For example, you can keep a dated journal and recordings of offensive conversations. Furthermore, you need to save and securely store emails, letters, notes, text messages, and other media that contain sexually unwelcome content. It would help if you tried to include as many details as possible in your records. Details like the people around when the conduct was going on, where it was happening, who you reached out to, and peculiar features of the perpetrators make convincing evidence.

Report the Behavior to Your Employer

When your harasser fails to stop the unwelcome or offensive sexually suggestive behavior after a warning, the next step is to report it to your employer. Most companies have a guideline for reporting harassment and discriminatory behaviors.

You can find the procedure for filing a complaint with your company in employee handbooks or personnel policies. Prepare your documents, present your case as directed by the handbook, and wait for your employer’s response.

Even when such policies are not defined in any writing, you can approach supervisors, managers, executives, or HR personnel to make an official complaint. The law encourages you to report to your employer first and give them a chance to resolve it through arbitration. Most employers will take prompt remedial action after reading your report.

Take Legal Action

When your employer fails to take appropriate corrective action, you might have to file sexual harassment claims. Suppose you are working for a small establishment with less than 15 employees. In that case, you need to file a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division (TWCCRD).

However, suppose your employer has a staff of at least 15 employees. In that case, you can choose to file with either TWCCRD or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is the civil rights division in charge of discrimination claims in work environments in the U.S.

Remember that there is a time limit or window when you can make a complaint to these government agencies. While the bills approved by Governor Abbot have extended the statute of limitation to 300 days for TWCCRD, the window remains 180 days for EEOC.

After reporting to these agencies, you will be issued appropriate documents to proceed with your case to court with a law firm or personal lawyer.

Don’t Stay in a Hostile Work Environment, Let Joblist Help

Sexual harassment can lead to severe emotional and psychological consequences that, over time, may impact the victim’s productivity and well-being. However, despite the hostility and toxicity of sexual harassment in the workplace, most employees find it difficult to quit or take meaningful action because of their work’s financial security. However, you don’t have to live with such tough choices when you have platforms like Joblist that can help you land your next job with ease.

You can rely on the efficiency of our system to generate the best job fit based on your preference and experience. We believe that your next job search and subsequent application should be flexible, unique, and prejudice-free. All you need to do is take the quiz, and we’ll help you find the perfect workplace that will treat you above all with merit and dignity.

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