State and federal law prohibit sex discrimination in the workplace. Sex discrimination occurs when an employee is treated differently because of that person’s sex or gender. It is illegal to discriminate in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, assignments, promotions, pay, and benefits—or any other term or condition of employment.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. Sexual harassment can be an unwelcome advance, request for sexual favor, physical touching, or verbal harassment of a sexual nature.
Harassment can also consist of offensive remarks about a person’s gender. For example, it is illegal to harass a female employee by repeatedly making offensive comments about women in general. Simple teasing, offhand comments, or minor isolated incidents generally do not constitute sexual harassment under the law. However, such comments or incidents may be illegal if they are so frequent or so severe that they create a hostile workplace.
How Should Employers Respond?
State and federal laws prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who are asserting their rights to be free from employment discrimination. Retaliation includes, but is not limited to reprimands, negative performance evaluations, and transferring the employee to a less desirable position.
It is unlawful to retaliate against applicants or employees who engage in protected conduct, including filing a complaint, reporting discrimination to a supervisor, answering questions during an investigation, refusing to follow orders that would result in discrimination, and intervening to protect others.
What do Employers Need to Know?
Employment discrimination laws apply to all public employers and private employers with at least fifteen employees. Employees in Texas can report discrimination to the government by filing a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or to the Civil Rights Division of the Texas Workforce Commission. Employees typically have 180 days from the date of discrimination to file a complaint.
It is important for employers to know their responsibilities and obligations. Employers should never retaliate against an employee for reporting discrimination. Employers should treat the employee as if he or she had never reported discrimination. Employers can protect themselves and their employees by adopting and consistently enforcing policies designed to prevent workplace discrimination.
Employers are encouraged to adopt an open-door policy that allows employees to report concerns about discrimination in a process that is confidential, neutral, and protects the rights of those coming forward to report their concerns.