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Discrimination in the Texas workplace: Understanding sexual harassment

When unwanted sexual advances and other sexual conduct occur in the workplace, it may be considered sexual harassment, which is prohibited by law.

Inappropriate behaviors in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, may turn a job you love into one you loathe. However, employees do not have to stand for this type of unlawful conduct. To help protect themselves, it is important for Texas workers to understand what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace and their options for putting a stop to it.

What is sexual harassment?

When most people think of sexual harassment, requests for sexual favors and unwanted sexual advances often come to mind. A form of sex discrimination, sexual harassment encompasses a range of inappropriate behaviors. Requests for sexual favors and unwanted sexual advances are perhaps the most obvious and well-known types of sexual harassment. However, this type of discrimination may also include physical or verbal conduct that is sexual in nature. This is the case when the worker’s employment or performance are directly or indirectly impacted by the conduct, or if the behavior creates an offensive, intimidating or hostile working environment.

Identifying improper workplace conduct

Most workers know that directly or indirectly making bribes or threats for unwelcomed sexual activity is considered sexual harassment. However, sexual harassment in the workplace may take many other forms. Some of the most common examples of this type of inappropriate conduct include the following:

  • Sexual comments, innuendoes and jokes
  • Stroking, squeezing, patting, tickling and other touching
  • Repeatedly asking for a date or sexual favors
  • Sexually suggestive gestures and sounds
  • Leering, ogling or otherwise inappropriately looking at a co-worker

Additionally, this type of discrimination may also include sexually ridiculing a co-worker and asking intrusive questions that are sexually explicit. Displaying calendars, cartoons, pictures and other graphic content may also be considered sexual harassment under some circumstances

Victims and harassers

People often mistake sexual harassment as occurring only between superiors and their employees. However, harassers are not always the direct superior of those whose rights they are violating. A harasser may be a co-worker, agent of the employer, supervisor in another area or even a non-employee.

Some may assume that for unwanted behaviors to be considered sexual harassment, the conduct must involve male and female workers, but this is not the case. Both men and women may commit sexual harassment, and may harass people of the same or opposite sex.

Reporting harassment

If sexual harassment occurs in the workplace, employees have options to put a stop to it. It is advised that before filing a formal complaint, workers first attempt to resolve the issue at the lowest level. The Texas Workforce Commission recommends notifying the harasser that the behavior is not welcome and asking him or her to stop. Should the
unlawful conduct persist, people may consider making a report to their employer’s human resources department or to their supervisor or manager. Employees should also consult their employee handbooks, as the employer often will include information in the handbook about how to report sexual harassment. .

When they are unable to resolve sexual harassment allegations with their employers, people may consider making a formal complaint with the TWC’s civil rights division. Provided the jurisdictional requirements are met, the division will investigate to determine whether any discrimination occurred.

Seeking legal guidance

When sexual harassment occurs in the workplace, it may cause a range of issues for Texas employees and affect their ability to provide for their families. Although this type of inappropriate conduct is prohibited, filing a discrimination claim is not always a straightforward process. Therefore, those who believe they have experienced sexual harassment may benefit from consulting with a lawyer. A legal representative may help them understand their rights and options, as well as guide them through the legal process.