Big Changes to Texas Workplace Sexual Harassment Law Are you Prepared?

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Big Changes to Texas Workplace Sexual Harassment Law

Are you Prepared?

In a surprising move, Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently signed two significant amendments, SB45 and HB 21, to the Texas labor code, which will be significantly expanded and redefined. These amendments will have a major impact on how businesses in the State handle sexual harassment claims. Effective September 1, 2021, claims for sexual harassment can be made against a broader group of employers and requires employers to take “immediate and appropriate” action when a sexual harassment claim is made.

Currently, under Texas law, employees working for employers with fewer than fifteen employees cannot file a sexual harassment claim with the Texas Workforce Commission (“TWC”). Under the new law, employers with as few as one employee can be sued. Further, the current statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims requires an employee to file within 180 days of the harassment. The new statute of limitations will climb from 180 days to 300 days. The new amendments will define a potentially liable “employer” to include “any person who acts directly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee.” This now allows employees to file sexual harassment lawsuits against supervisors, coworkers, and signaling the possibility of individuals being “personally liable” for sexual harassment. These recent changes do not apply to claims based on other “protected” characteristics under the Texas Labor Code, such as race, religion, age, or color.

The new Texas law provides that “an employer commits an unlawful employment practice if sexual harassment of an employee occurs and the employer or its agents or supervisors should know or should have known that the conduct constituting sexual harassment was occurring and fail to take immediate and appropriate action.” The expansion of the definition of an “employer” will likely lead to an increased number of lawsuits against employers. However, there will be some uncertainty in the exact meaning of this new phrase in the law, which will certainly not be resolved without judicial interpretation by the Texas courts.

Now is a great time for all employers in Texas to review and revise their handbook policies for discrimination and harassment and if necessary, adopt changes to their policies. Employers should also ensure that all employees have sexual harassment training and remind employees of their duties to avoid and report this type of misconduct. Employers should ensure that both management and HR are well versed in these changes and conduct immediate “investigative” policies.

Bottom line, these recent changes will no doubt lead to an avalanche of litigation. Epps and Coulson, LLP is here to help you navigate these changes and avoid litigation. We will continue to closely monitor this rapidly developing situation and provide updates as appropriate.

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Information contained in this Memo is intended for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.  It is considered advertising under laws of some states.  Epps & Coulson, LLP encourages you to call to discuss these matters as they apply to you or your business.


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