In Texas, it is illegal for an employer to create a hostile work environment, or workplace harassment, on the basis of sex/gender, race, religion, age (over 40), qualified disability, national origin, ethnicity, or status as a current or veteran military service member. Discrimination laws prohibit more than just sexual harassment. Harassment leads to a hostile work environment when it becomes severe or pervasive, it is unwelcome and the hostility negatively affects your working conditions. Harassment by itself usually does not become severe or pervasive with one act; although it can if that single act is truly severe (usually sexual contact) and performed by a supervisor.
More commonly the harassment occurs across multiple acts to create a hostile work environment. The harassment can be by a supervisor or other manager, co-workers, the employer’s customers or business partners, or a combination.
What to do if you are harassed at work in Texas
There are a few simple steps you should take if harassed on the basis of one of the protected statuses. If you believe you have been harassed, the first step is to make sure the offender knows the conduct is unwelcome. Sometimes people do not realize they are being offensive. Just telling them to stop may be enough. Keep records at home of the date/time, location, people involved and anybody who might have witnessed it.
Anti-discrimination policies in Texas
You should then look for the employer’s employment handbook and find the anti-harassment or anti-discrimination policy (may also be called equal employment opportunity policy) and find out the proper steps to report harassment. It is common for employers to have an “open door” policy. However, your employer may require communication to a specific individual or business unit. I would suggest reporting it to HR, if the policy gives you that option. They tend to be more familiar with the policy and take the issue more seriously than a manager. The manager may, after all, have more interest in protecting the offender than you.
It is very important that you report the harassment following the employer’s policy. Failing to report harassment gives the employer the opportunity to argue they would have acted if you had reported it. That comes directly from the United States Supreme Court, so employers are quick to make that argument. You do not want to give them that opportunity. More importantly, you want the harassment to stop before it reaches the point where you have to sue your employer. Reporting the discrimination, in many cases, will accomplish that result. Add notes from your report to your personal records at home. If you already hired an employment lawyer then you should make sure your employment attorney has the same notes.
The hostile work environment continues at work
If harassment continues, you must continue to report it to the employer. Note each event and each report in your notes. Your own notes may be important in refreshing your memory of each event and how the employer responded. It also provides a comparison to what the employer recorded from your complaints and how they handled it. It is very important you continue to make those reports and make the employer create its own paper trail.
In rare cases, making any reports to the employer can be worthless. Especially when the harasser is the owner of the company or the head of HR. If you really believe that there is zero chance the employer will take steps to stop the harassment or reporting it will make your situation dangerous or put your job at risk, you need to schedule an appointment to consult with an attorney because not reporting can give the employer an opportunity to avoid liability for the harassment. If you just quit you may not be able to recover for any harm. It’s really important that you speak with an employment lawyer to help create a plan of action with you.
Employment discrimination attorneys for harassment in Texas
If you do report and the employer does not or cannot stop the harassment, then it may be time to file a formal complaint with the state or federal anti-discrimination agencies. If that is the case then this is also time to consult with an employment attorney to develop a plan of action and begin that formal process, if necessary. Sometimes a phone call or strongly worded letter can prod an employer to do the right thing. Employment lawyers help clients through all stages of harassment and other employment law situations. If you have tried to follow your employer’s anti-harassment policy and it has not resolved the problem then you should take the next step and consult with an employment lawyer near you.