New and Expanded Workplace Sexual Harassment Law

In uber-conservative Texas, a game changing piece of legislation has gone into effect to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Effective September 1, 2021, victims of workplace sexual harassment now have more time to bring claims, more employers who are covered by the law, and new ways to hold managers and supervisors responsible for engaging in sexual harassment and/or failing to take steps to stop sexual harassment once they are made aware of it.

Before the change, all discrimination claims had to be initiated by filing a charge of discrimination with the Texas Workforce Commission-Civil Rights Division within 180 days of the complained of conduct. Now, victims of workplace sexual harassment have 300 days to initiate the process with the TWC. That’s an enormous benefit to women who have been victimized, because deciding to come forward about sexual harassment is a terrifying analysis, for fear of retaliation at work. Now they have more time to decide.

But the next change is by far the biggest. Previously, the state law applied only to employers with 15 or more employees. While that threshold still applies to other forms of workplace harassment and discrimination, it no longer applies to sexual harassment claims. Any employer, no matter how small, is now covered by the law prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace. The importance of this change cannot be overstated—previously small companies were free to sexually harass women with impunity. No more. Even mom and pop shops can be held accountable for engaging in or permitting workplace sexual harassment. And small companies run by men have been some of the worst abusers of female employees because they knew they were essentially immune. Again, no longer.

And finally, the law now allows victims to hold liable supervisors and managers who have either engaged in sexual harassment, or allowed sexual harassment to occur without taking corrective action. Again, the enormity of this change is hard to overstate. Many times supervisors and managers turn a blind eye to sexual harassment because they just don’t care. Now, those supervisors and managers can be held personally responsible for allowing sexual harassment to happen after they are made aware of it.

Together, these changes to Texas law constitute the most significant civil rights protections since Texas first adopted the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act more than a quarter century ago. The changes provide more time to consider whether to pursue a workplace sexual harassment claim, hold all Texas employers accountable, and hold managers and supervisors personally liable to allowing sexual harassment to continue. It’s rare to say this in Texas, but the legislature and governor just enacted some of the greatest protection for workers in decades.