Updated: Sep 15
Mired among the numerous headline-grabbing Texas Legislature stories last summer, you may have missed that lawmakers in the Lone Star State passed 2 important amendments to the Texas Labor Code: SB 45 & HB 21. These include a number of significant changes for employers and expanded protections for employees with regard to workplace sexual harassment.* At SAFE, we are thrilled that the new laws protect employees of all Texas businesses, large and small – and that there’s an extended statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims, from the previous 180 days to now 300 days. But that’s not all. The law also includes a more detailed definition of sexual harassment, a heightened standard regarding employer liability, and new individual liability for all kinds of employees.
Yes, you read that right.
The new law signed by Governor Abbott has expanded the definition of employer to persons who employ “one or more employees” and to those who act “directly in the interests of an employer in relation to an employee.” This means “supervisors, managers, human resources professionals, other employees and third parties may be named individually as defendants in an employee's sexual harassment complaint and held personally liable for damages.”
Lastly, employers are now required to take “immediate and appropriate corrective action”, rather than the previous “prompt, remedial action”, thus potentially opening the door to increased litigation.
What do these changes mean for your business?
Well, at the very least, it's time to revisit your employee handbook and anti-harassment policies to make sure you’re in compliance. And update the training you provide to HR and managers to get them up to speed on the new laws.
At SAFE Institute, we recommend employers go beyond checking compliance boxes and assess whether they are truly fostering a safe and healthy culture. Some questions to guide that assessment include:
How are you communicating your organizations values and standards of conduct?
How are you training your team to prevent and effectively respond to sexual harassment?
What avenues are you using to disseminate your sexual harassment policy and clear reporting structures to ensure they are accessible to your team at all levels of your organization?
What concrete actions are your organization’s leaders taking to build trust among everyone, so those experiencing sexual harassment feel safe coming forward and confident that their claim will be taken seriously and handled appropriately?
Partner with SAFE Institute and Walk your Talk
Business leaders and HR professionals recognize that even when an organization has crossed their t’s and dotted their i’s, there’s more to fostering a healthy workplace culture that retains and attracts talent. It takes time and intentional effort to cultivate trust with employees and build a solid reputation as an organization that offers safe spaces for everyone. Partnering with SAFE provides companies with guidance, training and support on that journey.
BASE (Building a Safe Environment) trainings are an engaging and innovative that go beyond compliance and offers a space where teams strategize together on how to prevent sexual harassment, intervene safely on behalf of others, be gender inclusive and how to navigate power dynamics in your environment. We offer customized in-person and virtual sessions, as well as self-paced courses in both English and Spanish.
SAFE Institute experts are available to review your policies and procedures through a trauma-informed lens. Walk your Talk and take a leader-driven, comprehensive approach to building a safe, healthy culture.
No doubt there will be some uncertainty regarding Texas’s new sexual harassment laws, especially around increased risk for employer and individual liability, and it’s always a good idea to consult with an employment attorney to address legal questions specific to your company.
* Note: These changes apply only to sexual harassment claims and do not apply to claims based on other protected characteristics under the Texas Labor Code, such as race, religion, color, age, etc.
Texas Legislature Expands Employee Protection for Sexual Harassment Claims (National Law Review - July 2021)
New Texas Law Expands Liability for Sexual Harassment Claims (JD Supra - July 2021)