Employees of all Texas companies, regardless of size, are now covered by sexual harassment statutes following amendments to Texas’ state discrimination law, which was implemented this month.
The Texas legislature has passed a new law expanding protections for employees who suffer sexual harassment in the workplace. The new law (commonly referred to as SB45), which went into effect earlier this month, greatly expands the number of employees protected by the state’s anti-harassment law and makes it easier for employees who have suffered sexual harassment to file a claim.
Changes to Who Can be Liable for Sexual Harassment in Texas
The first big change under the law is an expansion of the definition of what “employers” can be held responsible for sexual harassment in the workplace. There are two important aspects regarding who can be held liable for sexual harassment under the new law. First, unlike the old state law (and current federal law), which only applies to employers with 15 or more employees, SB45 expanded the definition of “employer” in the context of sexual harassment claims, to “a person who (A) employs one or more employees; or (B) acts directly in the interests of an employer in relation to an employee.” The change from 15 to “one or more employees” means that the large number of small businesses in Texas can now be held liable for sexual harassment.
Under the expanded definition, supervisors and managers, as well as others acting “directly in the interests of an employer,” may now be sued individually in a sexual harassment complaint and be held liable in their individual capacity for damages for sexual harassment.
Employees Have a Longer Time to File a Claim
Under the old state law, employees used to have only 180 days (from the date of the alleged harassment) to file a charge of sexual harassment. Under SB45, employees now have up to 300 days to file a charge of sexual harassment with the Texas Workforce Commission. This expanded 300-day time period brings state law into alignment with federal law, which already provides employees 300 days to file a charge of sexual harassment with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
What Hasn’t Changed?
It is important to note that these changes apply only to claims for sexual harassment. Claims for discrimination, retaliation, or harassment based on grounds other than sex still fall under the old law with regard to who can be held responsible as an “employer” and the deadlines for filing. Will this cause unnecessary confusion? Yes. Yes it will.