New Laws to Support Sexual Harassment Claims in Texas

As of September 1, 2021, two new laws—Senate Bill 45 and House Bill 21—that substantially expand the legal protections for employees who file workplace sexual harassment claims in Texas are in effect. However, these changes do not apply to claims based on any other protected class under state law, including race, color, age, religion, etc. 

The following are the updated sexual harassment provisions of the Texas Labor Code: 

  • Longer filing period – HB 21 amends Section 21.201(g) of the Texas Labor Code, increasing the statute of limitations for employees to file their complaints alleging sexual harassment. Now, a worker must first file a charge of discrimination with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) within 300 days, rather than 180 days under previous law. Keep in mind, the 180-day statute of limitations still apply to claims based on any other protected status (e.g., race, age, religion, etc.). 

  • Expanded definition of an employer – SB 45 amends Section 21.141 by defining an “employer” as a person who employees at least one worker. Therefore, essentially making all Texas employers liable for sexual harassment claims under state law. Under previous law, employees can only file a sexual harassment claim against an employer with a minimum of 15 employees. 

  • More individuals can be held liable – Supervisors, managers, other employees, human resources personnel, and third parties may now be individually liable for damages. In other words, there is a risk of individual liability in sexual harassment claims, rather than the sole liability of an employer. This new law will make it more difficult for employers to transfer a sexual harassment case to federal court—a common practice of out-of-state employers based on the diversity of the parties—since any case in which a defendant is a Texas resident will only be heard the state courts. 

  • The elevated standard for employer response – Regarding internal sexual harassment complaints, if an employer or its supervisors or agents (1) known or should have known that sexual harassment occurred and (2) failed to take “immediate and appropriate corrective action,” the new law considers such conduct as an unlawful employment practice. Previously, employers were only required to take “prompt remedial action” when responding to an employee complaint. 

Since there are now fewer restrictions on who can file a claim and when the updated Texas Labor Code should be fairer for alleged victims of workplace sexual harassment. Employers should review and revise their handbook policies that address harassment and discrimination, as well as ensure their training materials are strong and their human resources personnel are well-versed in the new laws. 

If you believe you are a victim of workplace sexual harassment in Houston or Harris County, call Shellist Lazarz Slobin at (713) 352-3433 or complete our online contact form today for an initial consultation. 

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