Several changes to the Texas labor codes have affected sexual harassment claims. On a recent State Bar of Texas Podcast episode, I talk with host Rocky Dhir about how these changes make it easier for people to pursue a claim and how the definition of an employer has changed. I offer insights on how victims of sexual harassment in the workplace can file a claim. Listen to the podcast below.
Big changes to the law in Texas on sexual harassment become effective on September 1, 2021. These new changes have gotten surprisingly little publicity but make it easier to pursue a sexual harassment case in Texas.
The changes are in a new subchapter to Texas Labor Code Chapter 21 addressing only sexual harassment claims.
First, in the past, laws that protected people from sexual harassment only applied to companies with 15 or more employees for at least 20 weeks of a year. So, for people who worked for small companies, there was no real and effective protection from sexual harassment.
Second, the harasser usually could not be sued individually under Title VII or Texas Labor Code Chapter 21 for sexual harassment. The harasser might be sued for assault when there was unwelcome touching. However, if there was no assault involved, the harasser typically could not be sued individually.
Finally, under Texas law, the period to file a sexual harassment charge was a short 180 days.
That all just changed in Texas.
Under this new law, an “employer” means a person who employs one or more employees. It also can mean a person who “acts directly in the interests of an employer in relation to an employee.”
This fills a gap for employees in small companies. Now, anyone who works for a company with just one employee has protection from sexual harassment.
The biggest change is that the harasser may be considered an “employer” under the law if the harasser acts directly in the interests of an employer in relation to an employee. With this definition, if there is a coworker harassing his or her peer, that coworker really won’t fit in the definition of “employer.” However, if a boss is harassing a subordinate, there is a good chance the boss can now be sued individually. That is a new and very big change to Texas law.
Finally, the deadline to file a charge of discrimination in Texas for sexual harassment has now been increased to 300 days. That gives victims a little bit more time to decide whether to pursue a claim for sexual harassment or not.
This increased deadline from 180 days to 300 days only applies to sexual harassment. All other types of discrimination claims under Texas law are still subject to the normal 180-day deadline.
These changes are huge. Given that the Texas legislature has lagged far behind in changing its laws to protect women on equal pay issues, it is great to see the Texas legislature get out in front on sexual harassment.
Even though these changes are not effective until September 1, 2021, expect to see the number of sexual harassment claims increase. For the victims who fell between the cracks in the law before, this is a very welcome change. For the people who harass employees and who now fall within the definition of “employer” and can be sued individually now, this will be a very unwelcome change.