Texas’s New Sexual Harassment Laws- What Employers Should Know

Two employment law bills recently took effect in Texas on September 1, 2021, that expand certain protections for employees in Texas workplaces. The bills, SB 45 and HB 21, expand protections to employees specifically concerning sexual harassment in the workplace under the Texas Labor Code, allowing more employees to have eligibility to file a claim and giving employees a longer statute of limitations for these types of claims. The laws are specific to sexual harassment in the workplace and do not extend other types of employee protections in the workplace. Employers in Texas should learn more about the changes to Texas law as soon as possible to understand their responsibilities and what steps they may need to take in order to be in compliance.

More Employers Can be Liable 

Recent changes to the law expand the definition of an employer to include any person or entity that “employs one or more employees.” Accordingly, more employers in the state may be responsible for complying with sexual harassment laws.  Prior to this change in the law, only employers with 15 or more employees were subject to the Texas Labor Code’s prohibitions against sexual harassment in the workplace.  As a result of this change, employers with even just one employee are now subject to the law.

Employers Have a Greater Duty to Respond to Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Another of the key changes to Texas law concerning sexual harassment in the workplace that specifically affects employers is the heightened response requirement for employers. Under SB 45, a Texas employer “commits an unlawful employment practice if sexual harassment of an employee occurs and the employer or the employer’s agents or supervisors” both “know or should have known that the conduct constituting sexual harassment was occurring” and “fail to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.”

In other words, an employer is in violation of the law if the employer learns of sexual harassment in the workplace, or should have learned about the sexual harassment through reasonable practices, and fails to take steps to stop and to remedy the harassment. Prior to the passage of SB 45, Texas employers were only required to take “prompt remedial action” if an employee filed a sexual harassment complaint. Now, employers can be liable if they know or should have known about sexual harassment in the workplace, and if they fail to take “immediate and appropriate corrective action.” The revised law does not define or provide examples of “immediate and appropriate corrective action,” but it likely will require policies, regular training, investigations, and prompt remedial action.  Due to the undefined nature of the law, it is helpful for an employer to seek advice from a Texas employment law attorney.

Supervisors, Managers, and Others Can Now be Liable

Prior to the recent changes to Texas sexual harassment laws affecting the workplace, liability for failing to investigate or remedy sexual harassment upon receiving a complaint affected the employer (i.e., the entity) only. Under the changes to the law through SB 45, the term “employer” has been expanded to include people in positions of authority in a workplace. Indeed, the law explains that an employer can also now include a person who “acts directly in the interests of an employer in relation to an employee.”

Accordingly, supervisors, managers, and other parties at workplaces who oversee other employees in some capacity or engage with other employees in a manner that is in the interests of the employer may be liable for sexual harassment that is not appropriately remedied.

Seek Advice from a Texas Employment Law Attorney

Additional changes to the law include an extension of the statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims by allowing Charges of Discrimination to be filed with the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division within 300 days of the act complained of. If you have questions about compliance or what steps you need to take to avoid liability, one of our Frisco employment attorneys can assist you. Contact Simon Paschal PLLC to learn more.

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