Texas Expands Sexual Harassment Protections

Author: Emily Scace, XpertHR Legal Editor

August 31, 2021

Two bills that take effect on September 1 significantly expand the reach of Texas's sexual harassment laws.

S.B. 45 specifies that the state's law prohibiting sexual harassment applies to any employer with one or more employees, as well as any person acting directly in an employer's interests. Previously, only employers with 15 or more employees were covered. The amendment also means that individual supervisors, managers and coworkers may be held liable for workplace sexual harassment, in contrast to the preexisting law, which did not allow for this individual liability.

The law covers both quid pro quo sexual harassment - harassment that is implicitly or explicitly made a condition of an individual's employment - and hostile work environment sexual harassment. Sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and any other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that falls into one of these categories can constitute harassment under the amended law.

The law also imposes a more stringent duty on employers to proactively identify and remedy sexual harassment in the workplace. Under the amended law, an employer commits a violation if an employee experiences sexual harassment and the employer, or its agent or supervisor, knows or should have known about the harassment and fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action. This provision gives employers a strong incentive to adopt clear policies defining and prohibiting sexual harassment, along with reporting and investigation mechanisms and training for employees and supervisors.

Under H.B. 21, the statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims is extended from 180 days to 300 days following the date of the alleged sexual harassment.