Discrimination is an action that often goes unreported, but its impact is unavoidable. When unaddressed, repeated discrimination becomes normalized, and every unaddressed incident reinforces its practice. One common type of discrimination that the federal government has recognized since 1964 is sexual harassment in workplaces. Some states have taken extensive measures to protect employees from and provide guidance to employers about sexual harassment. Texas is not one of those states.
However, the state of Texas has made an effort to add limited protections for workers. If you are a person working in Texas, it is a good idea to research your employment rights and to understand how you are protected by the state and by federal law.
Discrimination and Sexual Harassment
Discrimination occurs when you are treated differently than other people. Sexual harassment occurs when you are discriminated against on the basis of your gender. Workplace sexual harassment is defined by gender-based discrimination that occurs at your work.
Sexual harassment, by definition, is unwelcome visual, verbal, or physical attention that is based on your gender. A victim can be a man or woman—and may experience an uninvited kiss, might be a witness to the sexual harassment of a coworker, or might be regularly taunted with gender-stereotype-based comments. A harasser can be a man or woman—and may be a coworker, a manager, a manager in another department of the company, or even a customer. If the harasser is in a leadership position, the consequences of resisting can be serious, including being fired, being passed over for a promotion, lower compensation, and more. For example, if you work in retail in Austin and your manager repeatedly makes comments about your attractiveness, that could be construed as sexual harassment.
Texas Labor Code Chapter 21
Labor Code Chapter 21 supplements federal law to protect Texas workers from gender-based workplace harassment. The labor code applies to employers, labor unions, and employment agencies. Its purpose, in part, is to “secure for persons in this state…freedom from discrimination in certain employment transactions, in order to protect their personal dignity.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
In 1964, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was passed to protect employees across the nation from employment discrimination based on gender. Title VII applies to private employers with 15 or more employees and to all state and local government offices, regardless of their number of employees.
If You Have Been Sexually Harassed
The first step to take is to directly tell the harasser that their behavior or comments are unwelcome and must stop. Next, follow your employer’s procedure for reporting the harassment. To prove sexual harassment, you must demonstrate that it interferes with your work performance or that it creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment at work. Teasing, offhand comments, and one-time incidents may not be considered sexual harassment.
If you believe you have been harassed, online resources can help you understand your rights.