Texas Increases Protections for Employees Filing Sexual Harassment Claims
Texas recently passed two new Bills (Senate Bill 45 and House Bill 21) that increase protections for sexual harassment claimants. Each new statute goes into effect on September 1, 2021. These laws present significant changes to existing Texas law.
Definition of an "Employer"
Prior to the enactment of Senate Bill 45, the relevant portions of the Texas Labor Code applied only to employers with fifteen (15) or more employees, and only the entity could be held liable, not an individual. Under the new law, the definition of an employer has been expanded to include any person or entity who employs one or more employees, or "acts directly in the interests of an employer in relation to an employee." This change means that many more small employers, and their owners and supervisors, will face potential liability.
Response Must be Immediate and Appropriate
The new law states that an employer commits an unlawful employment practice if sexual harassment of an employee occurs and the employer or its agents or supervisors:
- know or should have known that the conduct constituting sexual harassment was occurring; and
- fail to take immediate and appropriate corrective action."
The statute does not define "immediate and appropriate corrective action." Suffice it to say that the speed and efficacy with which an employer responds to a situation that potentially involves sexual harassment will be critical.
Employees Now Have Longer to File A Charge
Under the “old law,” an employee had up to 180 days after the unlawful activity to file a charge of discrimination with the Texas Workforce Commission. The new statute lengthens this to 300 days.
Remember, the new statutes go into effect on September 1.
First, Human Resources must be aware of these changes, especially the mandate for immediate and appropriate response to situations involving sexual harassment that the employer should have known of.
Next, supervisors should be made aware of these changes and the absolute necessity that they report to HR any hint that a situation involving sexual harassment may exist. Failure to do so will violate the requirement for immediate action.
Last, employers should make necessary changes to their written policies and procedures to incorporate the new statutory changes.
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