Sexual harassment on college campuses and in the workplace is against the law both in the State of Texas and at the federal level. Federal level sexual harassment law considers it a form of gender discrimination.
During the 2019 legislative session, new sexual harassment laws were passed in Texas aimed at beefing up protection against unwanted sexual advances. Here’s everything you need to know about Texas sexual harassment laws.
What Is Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is characterized by unwelcome sexual advances of a physical or verbal nature, which are intended to solicit sexual favors. According to a 2016 report by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an estimated 75% of employees who are sexually harassed at work fail to report the matter to a supervisor, manager or union representative. The main reason for this is that victims are afraid of experiencing workplace retaliation from their employers.
If you experience a pattern of unwelcome sexually suggestive actions or remarks, then you have grounds to sue the offending party for sexual harassment. The law also protects employees from facing relation against them when they launch a sexual harassment complaint against their employer. Even though Texas follows the “at-will” employment doctrine, employers are prohibited from suspending, demoting, hiring, or firing an employee who launches a sexual harassment complaint against them.
Modern-day harassment is a lot different from what it was in the last two decades or so. It often takes on more subtle forms as opposed to the stereotypical slap on the derriere or direct proposition for sex. These days, you might receive suggestive text messages late at night or inappropriate images from a coworker.
You might find sexually offensive comments on your social media profiles, emails, or other settings outside the formal workspace. You might even get an invitation to what starts as an official meeting that somehow ends up becoming a date. All these constitute sexual harassment and it is well within your rights to object to them and seek legal redress.
Types of Sexual Harassment
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act outlaws two types of sexual harassment. The first is quid pro quo harassment, which happens when a supervisor or someone in a position of authority requests for sexual favors or conduct in exchange for tangible results.
For instance, your supervisor might proposition you to sleep with them in exchange for a promotion at work. Your college professor may proposition you for sex in exchange for better grades.
The second type of sexual harassment is referred to as a hostile work environment. This occurs when an employee is subjected to unsolicited physical or verbal sexual advances that are so severe – it alters the employee’s working environment making it hostile and abusive.
For instance, every time your boss summons you into their office, it always leads to them propositioning you for sex. Or, every time you’re alone with them, they make a sexual pass at you.
While assertions of quid pro quo harassment may be easier to prove, the same can’t be said for hostile work environment allegations. The latter is harder to detect and even more difficult to prove. However, this should not deter you from reporting sexual harassment incidences.
Types of Inappropriate Sexual Conduct in the Workplace
Some forms of sexual harassment are clear as day. For instance, unwanted kissing, touching of intimate areas, requests for sexual favors, etc. all stand out as sexual harassment.
However, it isn’t always as overt. Here are a few examples of subtle sexual conduct that can be characterized as sexual harassment.
- Repeated compliments about an employee’s appearance
- An employer discussing their sex life in front of an employee
- Asking an employee about their sex life
- Making sexual jokes
- Circulating nude or semi-nude photos in the workplace
- Spreading sexual rumors about a coworker
- Leaving unwanted gifts of a romantic or sexual nature
- Unwanted physical contact such as a hand on an employee’s back
- Commenting on the attractiveness of other coworkers in front of an employee
For all these to qualify as a hostile work environment, the behavior must be offensive to the employee and any other reasonable person if they were in the same circumstances. It always helps to speak to the best harassment lawyers if you’re unsure.
At What Point Is Sexual Harassment a Crime
Under Texas State law, perpetrators of sexual harassment may be charged with harassment or assault. In particularly severe cases, offenders may be charged with sexual assault.
Each of these charges carries with it heavy fines and possible jail time. Criminal harassment is a Class B misdemeanor under Texas Penal Code that carries a fine of up to $2,000, a 6-month jail term, or both.
Assault is a Class C misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $500 or $2,000 if the victim experiences “pain” or a 1-year jail term. Lastly, sexual assault is considered a second-degree felony and carries with it up to $10,000 in fines or a jail term of up to 20 years.
In most cases, however, sexual harassment is usually handled as a civil matter in civil court. It may also be handled administratively through filing a complaint at agencies like the Texas Workforce Commission – Civil Rights Division or the EEOC. Lawyers for harassment and discrimination exist for just this purpose and will advise you on the best course of action to take.
New Laws in Texas 2020 on Sexual Harassment
Previously sexual harassment laws detailed unwanted behavior in the workplace. Now, with the new Senate Bill 212 that goes into effect on January 1, 2020, employees of public, private or independent institutions of higher learning are required to report all incidences of dating violence, sexual assault, harassment or stalking against an employee or student to the Title IX coordinator.
If the employee fails to report the incident, they will be charged with a Class B misdemeanor or a Class A misdemeanor if the conceal the incident. The law also protects these employees from workplace retaliation when they make the reports.
Take Back Your Power
Dealing with sexual harassment at work can make it quite difficult for a victim to think clearly about the best way to respond. This is often because they are afraid of losing their job or getting stigmatized for reporting the harassment.
However, this fear is often due to a lack of information. The law protects you against any form of retaliation. Consult a harassment lawyer to find out the formal measures you can take to protect yourself.
If you have more legal questions, you can also chat now with a Laws101.com attorney, where you’ll be instantly connected to a lawyer who can give you legal guidance on your specific case or question.