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By: Mandy Hexom
Effective September 1, 2021, Texas employees will have expanded protections against sexual harassment as part of the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act. Surprising many, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 45 (Texas Labor Code § 21.141) and House Bill 21 (Texas Labor Code §§ 21.201(g) and 21.202). These new laws also contain additional requirements on Texas employers. The changes are summarized as follows:
• Every employer in Texas is potentially liable for a sexual harassment claim, not just those with 15 or more employees.
• Employees can now bring a sexual harassment claim against individual managers or supervisors who knew or should have known about sexual harassment in the workplace and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action. Previously, employers had a defense if they took “prompt” remedial action. However, the new law does not define “immediate and appropriate corrective action,” thereby leaving this a litigated issue as to what this could mean.
• The statute of limitations to bring a claim for sexual harassment in Texas was expanded to 300 days after the date the alleged sexual harassment occurred, rather than 180 days (for filing a charge with the Texas Workforce Commission).
Texas also passed Senate Bill 282, which now prohibits the appropriation or use of public funds to settle or pay sexual harassment claims against public officials or employees.
The new laws only apply to conduct alleged to have occurred on or after September 1, 2021 and does not apply to any past acts. Going forward, Texas employers should re-evaluate their written policies and handbooks relating to sexual harassment in the workplace. Furthermore, employers should carefully train their managers and supervisors as to the appropriate reporting and response to claims or instances of sexual harassment in the workplace with these new laws in mind.