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Harassment at Work

School & Work

This article discusses workplace harassment in Texas and how to file a complaint about it.

Here, learn about unlawful harassment in Texas workplaces and how to file a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission. This article discusses the different forms of harassment. It also looks at employers' liability for harassment and what employees do if they are being harassed at work.

What is harassment? 

Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code. It consists of unwelcome behavior based on a protected category, including the following: 

  • Sex 
  • Race 
  • Color 
  • National origin 
  • Religion 
  • Disability 
  • Retaliation for reporting other unlawful workplace acts 

This type of behavior violates the law in certain situations: 

  • A person must endure the offensive behavior or risk their job; or 

  • The behavior is so bad that it interferes with the person’s ability to do their job. A reasonable person would find the work environment to be hostile or intimidating. 

Harassing behavior can include offensive jokes, comments, or slurs. It can also include physical conduct, such as unwanted touching, in a sexual harassment case. 

A single incident can count as unlawful harassment if it is severe enough. Most harassment cases involve ongoing behavior, such as when employees face slurs, jokes, or taunts daily at work. 

Harassment can occur in many situations, such as the following: 

  • The harasser is a supervisor or manager with authority over the victim. 

  • The harasser is the victim’s co-worker, a customer or client, or someone else in the workplace. The employer knows about the harassment but does nothing to stop it. 

  • The person filing the complaint is not the direct victim of the harassing behavior but suffers negative effects from witnessing it. 

What is sexual harassment? 

Sexual harassment is a type of discrimination based on sex. It is similar to other types of harassment, but Texas law addresses it much more directly. Two new laws that took effect on September 1, 2021 made several significant changes to the Texas Labor Code: 

  • It allows more people to assert claims of sexual harassment. 

  • It extends the deadline for filing claims with the TWC. 

  • It allows employees to hold individual supervisors or managers liable 

Section 21.141(2) of the Texas Labor Code defines several types of sexual harassment: 

  • An employee must submit to an unwanted sexual advance or other sexual behavior as part of their job. If they reject the advance or complain, they believe they risk retaliation. 

  • A job applicant must submit to an unwanted sexual request as part of the hiring process. 

  • Sexual advances or behavior “unreasonably interfer[e] with [the employee’s] work performance” and “creat[e] an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.” 

Like other forms of harassment, a single incident can count as a hostile work environment if it is severe enough. Many cases involving a hostile work environment involve ongoing behavior, such as a workplace culture of sexual jokes and comments.  

When is employer liable for sexual harassment?

An employer is liable for unlawful sexual harassment when the following occurs: 

  • The employer knew about the unwelcome and offensive behavior; and 

  • It failed to prevent or correct the behavior. 

The new law changes the definition of “employer” in sexual harassment cases. For any other type of discrimination or harassment, Chapter 21 only applies to employers with at least 15 employees. The sections dealing with sexual harassment apply to almost all employers in the state. They also apply to people who act on behalf of an employer, such as a manager or supervisor. If you work for an employer with only 14 employees, you cannot file a complaint for harassment based on any of the other protected classes. You can, however, file a sexual harassment claim. 

Unpaid interns have few legal protections in their jobs. Section 21.1065 protects them against sexual harassment. 

What can I do if I am experiencing harassment at work? 

The first step in dealing with harassment is to report it to human resources or whichever employee is responsible for such issues. If your employer does not have a human resources officer, you can report it to a supervisor or manager. Sometimes, though, your supervisor or manager is the one doing the harassing. In that situation, you can either report it to someone else in the organization or you can go directly to the TWC. 

You can submit a complaint to the TWC’s Civil Rights Division online or by mail. Our page on filing a complaint about your employer has more information about this process. You can also get information from the TWC’s website

How long do I have to file a complaint with the TWC? 

For most types of harassment, you have 180 days from the date of the unlawful activity to file a complaint. You have 300 days, however, to file a complaint of sexual harassment. 

Can I file a lawsuit for harassment? 

Yes, but you must file a TWC complaint first. 

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