What Qualifies as Sexual Harassment at Work?

Have You Been the Victim of Workplace Sexual Harassment in Texas?

Sexual harassment is unacceptable in any setting, but when it happens in the workplace, it may be found as violation of the law. Sexual harassment can be direct, indirect, and sometimes proven with clear-cut proof, other times with only circumstantial evidence.

Those subjected to workplace harassment know how harmful it can be, however, like any legal process, it must be proven that the harassment occurred to move forward with a case.

Whether you have been personally a victim of sexual harassment, or you’ve witness it in your workplace, you’ve come to the right place. At The Galo Law Firm, our lawyers have an extensive background working in employment law with a specialization in workplace sexual harassment. Our legal team can answer your questions, help you establish your case, and fend for you in court if necessary.

Contact us to learn how to protect your employee rights today. Call 210-361-8043.

The Problem of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment is a serious and especially harmful problem in workplaces across Texas. This behavior is not only damaging to the victims but can have a harmful impact on a workplace as a whole. But bottomline, no employee should be experiencing sexual harassment while at work.

The victims of sexual harassment may suffer from emotional distress, anxiety, and feel less satisfied with their jobs. When unaddressed, the continual issues of sexual harassment can lead to a high employee turnover and lower productivity rate within a company, which ultimately costs employers time and money.

Both employees and employers can be found culpable for workplace sexual harassment, making it essential for every worker, manager, boss, and business owner to understand how Texas law categorizes this behavior.

Legal Definition of Sexual Harassment in Texas

Sexual harassment can be nuanced and vary greatly, but generally is considered unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal and physical acts of a sexual nature made in the workplace. The behavior might be direct, or indirect, and in some cases repetitive and in others happen just once.

For the behavior to be categorized as sexual harassment, it must be “unwelcome” or “unwanted”. In the case of sexual advances that are welcome or reciprocated, it isn’t seen as sexual harassment unless there is a change in that consent.

Behaviors are considered sexual harassment when they are “severe or pervasive,” and create a hostile work environment when the conduct is used to influence employment decisions like promotions, hiring, or firings.

Employees are protected by sexual harassment laws under Title VII of the Civil rights act along with state labor regulations. Any business with at least 15 employees is subject to these laws.

Types of Sexual Harassment Recognized in Texas

Although sexual harassment  can vary in every circumstance, it is typically categorized into two main types: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Understanding and distinguishing between these types of sexual harassment is essential in a harassment case.

It’s important to know that sexual harassment can be perpetrated by any gender and onto any gender and can be verbal, written, or physical actions. As well, it is not always committed by a person in a position of authority and can be done by co-workers, customers, or clients.

Quid Pro Quo

Quid pro quo is originally a Latin term meaning “this for that”. In harassment cases, it applies to situations where an employer or someone higher in the chain of command promises job perks such as promotions, raises, or even keeping your job in exchange for sexual favors.

Quid pro quo harassment can be easier to prove than hostile work environment cases due to more available and direct evidence. It’s more common to see this conduct perpetrated by a superior, however, there are cases where co-workers may attempt to blackmail a colleague in a quid pro quo form. As well, quid pro quo can be pressured onto an employee to secure a deal where a client, not a colleague, requests the sexual act.

Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment can arise under many circumstances, however, sexual harassment is a common cause. When unwelcome sexual advances or behavior becomes severe or pervasive and starts to take a toll on a worker’s ability to do their job, it can be seen as the grounds of a hostile work environment.

However, to prove hostile work environment harassment, the behavior must be reported, documented, and presented with sufficient evidence.

There are many forms of sexually harassing behaviors that lead to a hostile environment. For instance, continually asking a coworker for their phone number, making lewd comments, touching a coworker inappropriately and non-consensually, using sexually explicit language, and to the extreme of explicitly demanding sexual favors or sexual assault.

When inspecting a sexual harassment claim based on a hostile work environment, the court will consider how often the behavior happened, the severity of the behavior, and whether it became physically threatening or humiliating.

Hostile work environment harassment doesn’t have to explicitly be sexual, it can extend to inappropriate remarks about a coworker’s gender or sexual identity.

Examples of Workplace Sexual Harassment

Everyone in the workplace should get familiarized with what behaviors and actions that can be considered sexual harassment, because it can take on many forms.

  • Unwanted Physical Contact – This can extend to any touching, embracing, or kissing without the consent of the other person.
  • Sexual Remarks or Jokes – Comments can be explicit or implicit and made about a person’s appearance, body, sexual behavior, gender, or sexual orientation.
  • Showing Sexually Explicit Content – This may involve watching or sharing pornography in the workplace or sending explicit images to a coworker.
  • Sexual Advances – This can range from repeatedly soliciting a kiss, a date, or sexual favors from an employee despite their denial or discomfort.
  • Quid pro quo – Offering an employment benefit in exchange for a sexual favor.
  • Insults – Any insult or derogatory term directed at any employee about their gender identity, sexual orientation, or sexual behavior.

Although these are common examples of sexual harassment, the behavior can be nuanced and emerge in different ways in every instance. As well, sexual harassment is not isolated to the physical workspace, it may happen amongst employees outside of the work.

How to Fight Back Against Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment can have serious repercussions for the offender, leading to legal penalties or potentially losing their job. In order to combat sexual harassment in Texas, employees have two primary ways to take action: first, they may file sexual harassment complaints either through the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and second, they may file a formal lawsuit in court.

These entities can investigate allegations and pursue legal action if needed. If either commission arrives at the conclusion that an organization or staff member has engaged in sexual harassment, the accountable party may be ordered to compensate the victim for damages sustained or take measures to stop future incidents of harassment. This can look like firing the offender or enforcing sexual harassment prevention training at the company.

Filing a Lawsuit – Victims of sexual harassment can file a lawsuit against the perpetrator or company, to seek justice and potentially recover damages. Yet, in a lawsuit, the victim will have to prove that the harassment they experienced was so “severe or pervasive” that it created a hostile work environment, or that they experienced retaliation or a negative employment action like being fired, demoted, or a pay decrease due to not complying with it. However, each lawsuit filed will be unique to the circumstances of that case. If the claim is successful, the victim could receive compensation for the suffering they’ve endured.

Whatever route you take to oppose sexual harassment in your workplace, having an experienced sexual harassment attorney on your side can be a huge help along the way.

Employer Liability

Although not always common knowledge, the liability of sexual harassment can extend past the perpetrator and onto the employer if the perpetrator was given workplace authority. This can ride on whether the employer was aware of the harassment, or if the company made an effort to stop or address the behavior. In the case an employer did not attempt to end the harmful conduct, they may be found liable.

Aside from legal and financial repercussions of a sexual harassment claims, these transgressions can seriously hurt a companies reputation. Employers who turn a blind eye to sexual harassment risk loss of business, public backlash, and a negative employee attitude. But, by taking proactive measures to prevent sexual harassment with policies and trainings, employers can protect themselves from liability along with creating a safer space for their employees.

Preventing and Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

All Texas employers have a moral and legal obligation to both stop and deal with workplace sexual harassment. As mentioned, employers may be able to reduce their legal liability as well as foster a positive and respectful work environment by taking proactive measures against sexual harassment in the first place.

We recommend that business owners and employers take the following measures:

Create a Sexual Harassment Policy – Employers should have a policy established that prohibits sexually harassing behavior. Such a policy should distinguish what behavior is prohibited, the reporting procedures, and the penalties for breaking the policy. This should be readily available and communicated to employees.

Employee Training – Employers should give routine and thorough training to their staff on what is workplace harassment, how to spot it, and how to file a complaint.

Resolve Complaints – Employers should treat all allegations of workplace sexual harassment both seriously and promptly. It is also important that all employees feel free to make such complaints without the fear of employer retaliation.

Keep Confidentiality – To preserve the privacy of both the victims and the accused, employers should maintain confidentiality throughout the process. Such complaints and investigations should be kept apart from an employee’s file until fully investigated.

Take Appropriate Measures – Following complaints of sexual harassment, employees need to take action and address the issue. This could involve disciplinary action, legal action, providing counseling to the victims, or requiring further training for the entire staff.

Monitor Workplace Atmosphere – Employers should frequently assess the workplace environment, ensuring that hostility or harmful behavior is not flaring up. This could involve taking surveys, holding group discussions, or an audit of the workplace environment.

How Can a Sexual Harassment Lawyer Help You?

If you fear sexual harassment is ongoing in your workplace, whether it’s to your personally or to another employee, it’s best to speak with a lawyer experienced in this field. Here are some ways a lawyer can be of assistance:

Legal Advice – With any legal issue, lawyers are the go-to for proper legal guidance. When confronted with a sexual harassment case,  an experienced lawyer can help you understand your rights and options, explain to you how and what behavior qualifies as sexual harassment, and clarify the process you need to go through to report it.

Investigate Your Case – An attorney will know how to investigate, gather information, and speak with all potential witnesses to build the strongest case possible when you move on to filing a report or lawsuit.

Submit a Complaint – Whether you file a complaint with the EEOC or the TWC, your attorney can walk you through that process. Our lawyers know these agencies and procedures well and help you understand what to expect.

Negotiate a Settlement – Depending on the nature of your case and the relationship you have with your employer/employees you and your attorney may be able to negotiate a settlement instead of heading to court. However legal negotiations can get complex, so they should be left in the hands of professionals.

Court Representation – If your case ends up in trial, you won’t have to face the court alone. An attorney can represent you and present the case to the court if called for, helping you seek compensation or punitive damages if possible.

Working with a Texas sexual harassment attorney is your best bet to defending your rights, and holding the responsible party accountable for their wrongful actions. The sooner you get working with a trained attorney, the sooner you can get the justice you deserve.

Deadlines for Filing Sexual Harassment Complaints in Texas

There are firm time restrictions when it comes to filing a sexual harassment complaint, and if missed, a victim may lose the opportunity to report the conduct entirely. In Texas, the statute of limitations for filing a complaint is 180 days with both the TWC and EEOC. Employees may file with both organizations, but one complaint is enough to move the case forward. This time restriction can be extended to 300 dates depending on the circumstances in the case. We recommended discussing your case with an attorney to ensure you file within the mandated period.

Assertive Legal Advocacy for Sexual Harassment Cases

No matter how big or small your worries may be, if you feel you’ve been sexually harassed in your workplace, we urge you to discuss your case with a qualified attorney. The sooner you begin working with a legal team, the better, as time can become an important factor for building up your defense. An experienced lawyer can not only guide you through each step of the process but make sure that your rights stay a priority.

At The Galo Law Firm, we can evaluate your case and help you understand your options under Texas employment law. Our team of dedicated lawyers can dive deep into the matter, building a foolproof case to bring justice to you.

Whether you are worried sexual harassment is ongoing in your workplace, or are ready to get working with a sexual harassment attorney today, The Galo Law Firm can help.

With an initial consultation, we can examine the circumstances, develop a strategy for moving forward, and ensure your rights are guarded along the way.

Learn how you can protect your employee rights and contact us today. Call 210-361-8043.

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