In recent years, states throughout the nation have expanded protections for employees in the workplace. Most recently, Texas Governor Greg Abbot signed two new bills (SB 45 and HB 21) that went into effect on September 1, 2021. The laws give employees new protections against sexual harassment in the workplace and implements key revisions to preexisting state law.
First, the definition of an “employer” has expanded. Previously, an employer had to have 15 or more employees to be covered by the anti-sexual harassment laws. As of September 1, 2021, the law defines an “employer” as a person who employs “one or more employees.” Under this revised definition, all employers including those with as few as one employee could be held liable for damages for workplace sexual harassment. To this end, virtually all Texas employers are now within the statute’s reach, resulting in far more Texas employees being able to sue for sexual harassment.
The legal definition of “employer” was further expanded for purposes of sexual harassment claims to include a person who “acts directly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee.” Before this amendment, only a business could be the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit. Now supervisors, managers, and co-workers may also be named defendants in sexual harassment lawsuits and could potentially be held individually liable for damages. It is unclear whether this definition will be extended to independent contractors, consultants, or advisors of a business. Nevertheless, an employer should look into reviewing their vendor and service agreements with contract partners for issues of potential liability.