As an intelligent employer, you realize sexual harassment training protects everyone, not just your employees but anyone who does business with your company. With the rise in sexual harassment complaints, training is one reliable way to address sexual harassment on the job. Regardless of whether sexual harassment training is legally required in your state, its benefits include compliance with federal, state, and in some cases, local laws. It also mitigates risk and educates employees on the expectations you have as your employee.
Do your employees know what to do if they experience sexual harassment on the job? Do they know the correct procedure if they should witness sexual harassment as a bystander? Are you sure that your employees even know what constitutes sexual harassment?
Since 2019 new laws requiring employers to provide adequate sexual harassment prevention training have passed. A few of the requirements include developing procedures and policies on how to address sexual harassment in the workplace, bringing awareness to sexual harassment issues, and helping promote safe work environments. Sexual harassment training for employees explains what constitutes sexual harassment, procedures for reporting sexual harassment incidents, an explanation of the investigation process, and what solutions and treatments are available for employees who have a harassing experience or witness the harassment.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) based on sex, race, national origin, and religion, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) promotes safe, respectful workplaces and fights against all types of workplace harassment.
Sometime in the 1980s, the Supreme Court determined that discrimination based on ‘sex’ was to be included under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). This interpretation of the law identifies sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual conduct when such behavior is implicitly or explicitly made a condition of a person’s employment.” For the actions of sexual harassment to apply to Title VII, the behavior must be severe and so pervasive that it interferes with the person’s employment creating an abusive workplace. At the state level, definitions of anti-harassment laws may read differently. In the state of Texas, sexual harassment training is required for state agencies within 30 days of hire and should be conducted every 2 years. While sexual harassment training is not required for businesses in the private sector, it does help to mitigate your company’s risk by knowing Texas Labor Code Chapter 21 and Title Vii of the Civil Rights Act. This federal law applies to any business with 15 or more employees.
Huge Changes to Sexual Harassment Law in Texas
Two new laws, SB 45 and HB 21, that went into effect September 1, 2021 change how sexual harassment claims are handled under Title VII in Texas. One of the biggest changes is the time an employee has to file a claim. It used to be 180 days from the date of the harassment occurrence. Texas law extends that period for employees to 300 days in which to file a claim of harassment with the Workforce Commission. That claim must also be filed with the EEOC when the claim is covered by state or local anti-discrimination law. However, this change does not apply to other anti-discrimination and harassment claims. Those deadlines remain at 180 days.
Texas Expands the Definition of Employer under the New Sexual Harassment Law
Under the ‘new’ Texas sexual harassment law, more employers can now be held liable for sexual harassment. The expanded definition of ‘employer’ in the state of Texas means any business that employs one or more workers or an individual who acts directly in the best interests of an employer in the context of an employee-employer relationship.
Another expansion to the definition of “employer” is that anyone acting on behalf of an employer, including managers and supervisors, can now be named individually in a sexual harassment claim. They can also be held individually liable for damages of sexual harassment. Under the Texas Labor Code, compensatory damages are awarded according to each complainant, so additional defendants named in a claim will not affect the cap on compensatory damages.
Texas Employers Held to a Higher Standard of Corrective Action
Employers have committed unlawful employment practices under the new law when sexual harassment occurs and nothing is done. To be liable, the employer must know or should have known that the behavior of sexual harassment was happening; and, secondly, failed to take immediate and appropriate action. Texas employers need to be prepared that the Texas courts will decide on a case-by-case basis what constitutes “immediate and appropriate corrective action”. They expect a high level of standards in workplace safety and more inclusive work environments from Texas businesses.
How Can Texas Employers Mitigate their Risks?
There are several actions Texas employers can take now to prevent liability under the new sexual harassment laws. Here are a few steps to take now to ensure your employees’ safety and lessen sexual harassment reports:
Implement a harassment complaint procedure that encourages employees to report harassment to management before it becomes severe or pervasive.
Instruct all supervisors to report complaints of sexual harassment to the proper internal officials.
Train supervisors and managers on the “new” law and their heightened responsibility toward reporting these claims. They need to know they can be individually liable for sexual harassment claims.
Train managers and supervisors on their roles and obligations to take immediate and appropriate corrective action should sexual harassment occur.
Assure employees that you will protect their confidentiality when filing a sexual harassment complaint.
Designate an external official to handle reports of sexual harassment (some employers enlist the help of hotlines), so that complaints will be directed impartially.
When investigating allegations of sexual harassment, be as prompt, thorough, and impartial as possible.
The investigator should interview the employee who filed the sexual harassment complaint, the alleged harasser, and others who may have witnessed or have relevant information about the incident.
Take steps to ensure the harassment does not continue by separating the parties involved immediately.
Ensure the separation does not impose a burden to the employee who filed the sexual harassment complaint.
While the investigation proceeds, make schedule changes so that the parties involved will not have contact or place the alleged harasser on non-disciplinary leave with pay pending the outcome of the investigation.