In Texas, workplace sexual harassment laws are changing to give employees more time to file claims against more types of businesses in the state, as two new laws went into effect on September 1, 2021. In the past, businesses with fewer than 15 employees were exempt from sexual harassment claims; however, these new laws apply to any company with at least one employee. Small business owners must now be aware that they may face allegations of sexual harassment from which they were previously shielded. Victims of sexual harassment often feel isolated and unheard, especially in the past when their claims against a smaller company could not be taken to court.
New employees starting at a very small business previously felt trapped in situations of workplace sexual harassment as they had no recourse to bring their harasser to justice. They would have few allies as well, as they would not have many coworkers to enlist as witnesses or confidants. Many employees who experience sexual harassment in the workplace, no matter how big or small the company, can be traumatized by the experience. Sexual harassment may be emotional, physical, or both, and when legal options were not available previously, this could leave a victim stuck without options. Now that SB 45 has gone into effect, the threshold for sexual harassment claims has dropped to include companies that have at least one employee. While the worker must still go through the process of proving the harassment occurred, they are now able to file a sexual harassment claim with the Texas Workforce Commission against the company and then proceed with filing a civil lawsuit. Victims are now able to feel heard and seen when sexual harassment occurs at a small business.
What Houston Businesses Need to Know About Sexual Harassment
Not only will victims have the option to file a sexual harassment claim no matter the size of the company, but previously exempt employers must also do more to prevent workplace sexual harassment from occurring in the first place. Even without a human resources department, small business owners must set sexual harassment policies to protect their employees as well as educate any and all employees on what to do if sexual harassment is suspected. Companies must now take immediate and appropriate corrective actions if a supervisor had knowledge of or should have known about any sexual harassment that took place in the workplace. This may be a bit confusing as it is not currently known what constitutes “immediate and appropriate corrective action” under the new law. The exact meaning of this will most likely be the subject of future litigation and remain a disputed issue until it is definitively addressed by the Texas courts. Texas small business managers must put policies into place and train their teams to watch for signs of sexual harassment. There must also be a clear path for reporting any type of harassment to a supervisor.
The second Texas employment law going into effect, HB 21, changes the statute of limitations for reporting workplace sexual harassment. The time period for reporting has changed to 300 days after the incident of harassment to file a claim with the Texas Workforce Commission. Other workplace complaints relating to discrimination, however, must be made within 180 days of the incident taking place. When sexual harassment takes place at work, it may take the victim a longer period of time to feel comfortable filing a claim and finding trusted legal representation. Sexual harassment victims may fear reporting an incident as they are embarrassed, are scared to lose their jobs, do not want to be publicly shamed, or and fear being retaliated against. Often, a victim of workplace sexual harassment will leave that place of employment or be fired before they seek redress. Having the extra time to file a claim can give victims some comfort, as they may be able to find stable, safe employment before pursuing a sexual harassment claim against a previous employer.
While these two new laws may come with some grey areas and uncertainty, all of which will inevitably be defined by judicial interpretation, employers must now be prepared for these changes. All employers in Texas should thoroughly review their sexual harassment policies, or create new ones, that address the needs of their workers in order to be in compliance with the new laws. Reporting procedures for sexual harassment should be clearly articulated for employees and an investigation process should be formulated that is free from bias. Robust sexual harassment training should be implemented for all employees, including management, that informs all workers of a company regarding what is and is not appropriate in the workplace.
If you believe you have been sexually harassed in the workplace, and after reporting to the appropriate manager or department do not feel the situation has been handled appropriately, contact our office for more information on how we can help. Every worker in Texas has the right to a safe work environment free from harassment. The members of our legal team have experience acting as safe people to whom you can voice your concerns so we can guide you about the appropriate further action to take. Your employer cannot retaliate against you for reporting sexual harassment. If you have been fired in retaliation for lodging a sexual harassment complaint, you have every right to file a civil lawsuit.