Understanding sexual harassment in the Texas workplace

Everyone in a Texas workplace should be able to identify and put a stop to sexual harassment.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that in 2015, there were 6,822 charges of sexual harassment in the workplace filed. Though women made up the majority of those asserting these claims, men filed 17.1 percent of the charges. Anyone in Texas could fall prey to inappropriate behavior at work. Knowing how to identify unlawful behavior and how to respond is essential.

What is sexual harassment?

Under Texas and federal law, employers with 15 or more employees must protect their employees from sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination. Sexual harassment can include any of the following:

  • Unwelcome verbal or physical sexual advances;
  • Conditioning terms and conditions of employment on submission to sexual advances;
  • Pervasive sexual jokes or remarks; and
  • Posting offensive sexual material in the workplace.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there are two types of sexual harassment. The first, referred to as quid pro quo sexual harassment, occurs when a supervisor requires an employee to submit to sexual advances as a condition of employment or in exchange for employment benefits. For example, it is unlawful for a superior to require an employee to kiss him to keep her job.

The second, known as hostile work environment sexual harassment, refers to conduct or remarks of a sexual nature that are unwelcome and so severe or pervasive they can create a hostile or abusive work environment.

How can I stop sexual harassment?

How to respond to sexual harassment in the work place is dependent on the circumstances. Sometimes providing verbal or non-verbal responses indicating disapproval or offense will be enough to put a stop to the conduct and deter future conduct.

However, when harassment is more serious it may become necessary to report the sexual harassment. If reporting becomes necessary, employees should follow the company's procedure for reporting sexual harassment. Failure to follow the company's policy can result in a failed sexual harassment claim or lawsuit later. If the company does not have a sexual harassment policy, the harassment should usually be reported to human resources or a higher-level supervisor.

If the employer does not resolve the issue, the employee should consult an experienced employment law attorney immediately. The deadlines for filing a charge of discrimination in Texas are 180 days from the date of the discriminatory act under Texas law and 300 days from the date of the discriminatory act under federal law. The failure to timely file a charge of discrimination will result in the claim being barred, and the employee will not be able to file a lawsuit later based on the unlawful conduct.

What are the consequences?

Although state and federal law prohibit retaliation against employees who, in good faith, report sexual harassment, retaliation is a possibility. Company policy and human resources representatives may promise protection against retaliation, but they may not have functional authority to prevent retaliation. This is all the more reason to promptly seek the advice of an experienced employment law attorney if you believe you have been the victim of sexual harassment or retaliation.

Under Title VII and Texas employment law, employers who are found liable for sexual harassment can be ordered to pay the victim compensation for monetary losses, mental pain and emotional distress, punitive damages, attorney's fees and court costs.

Employees with concerns about this topic should speak to an experienced employment law attorney in Texas.