Sexual Assault at Work Laws in Texas

A man grabbing a woman

On September 1st, 2021, the Texas legislature passed a new law that expanded the legal definition of sexual harassment and heightened the standard of an employer’s response to complaints. It also placed greater responsibility on individuals, rather than just companies, for failing to address sexual harassment claims.

All employees in Texas have a right to work in an environment that supports their growth and keeps them from harm. This includes the right to be protected from sexual assault. Individuals who have been victims of sexual assault in the workplace have a right to report the incident and pursue compensation for damages. However, many victims are afraid to come forward or are convinced that their incident does not qualify. The crime victim attorneys at Branch & Dhillon strongly advocate for sexual assault victims right to fair compensation. In this article, our attorneys discuss what rights victims have after they have endured sexual assault in the workplace and how they can get compensation.

What Is Sexual Assault in Texas?

The Texas Penal Code Sec. 22.011 defines sexual assault as the following:

  • Intercourse, oral, or anal penetration without consent.
  • Intercourse, penetration, or sexual contact with a minor.
  • Sexual acts with an individual who cannot give consent either due to a disability, mental capacity, or due to the relationship between parties.

While most individuals refer to this as rape, the State of Texas sees sexual assault and rape as the same offense. This offense can be elevated to “aggravated sexual assault” if the aggressor accomplishes the act by using a weapon, threats of physical harm to themselves or a loved one, by acting with another perpetrator, or when the victim is under the age of 14. Sexual assault will also be elevated to aggravated sexual assault if the victim is elderly or disabled and unable to consent.

What Punishments Come From a Conviction of Sexual Assault in Texas?

A woman in distress.

The crime of sexual assault is considered a second-degree felony. It carries a fine of up to $10,000 and two to 20 years in prison. If the charge is an aggravated sexual assault, then the prison time jumps up to five to 99 years.

It is important to note that these criminal penalties are separate from a civil liability lawsuit, which will carry its form of compensation for the victim.

Are Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment the Same Charge?

No. Sexual harassment in Texas is a type of discrimination based on one’s sex. While it’s similar to other kinds of harassment, Texas law addresses it separately. The Texas penal code changed its laws in September of 2021 to include the following amendments to the sexual harassment law:

  • It allows more individuals to assert claims of sexual harassment.
  • It extends the deadline for filing claims with the Texas Workforce Commission.
  • It allows employees to hold individual supervisors or managers accountable.

The Texas Labor Code, Section 21.121(2) defines sexual harassment as any of the following:

  • An employee must submit to an unwanted sexual advance or other sexual behavior as part of their job. If the employee rejects the advance or complains, they fear retaliation.
  • A job applicant must submit to an unwanted sexual request as part of the hiring process.
  • Sexual advances or behavior interferes with the employee’s work performance and creates a hostile environment.

I Have Experienced Sexual Assault At Work

A lady is in distress.

When an individual experiences sexual assault in the workplace, it creates a heavy blanket of trauma that can severely affect that person’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being. This trauma, whether it was caused by another employee or an employer, significantly impacts that individual’s ability to feel safe and prosperous in their work environment. If you or a loved one experienced sexual assault, the assault must be reported to the authorities. You will also want to visit a healthcare professional to obtain a Sexual Assault Nurse Examination (SANE) to preserve evidence for your case.

What If My Employer Retaliates?

If your employer threatens you for coming forward about your case, such as threatening to fire you, then they are in violation of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. An experienced Arlington Sexual Assault Victim attorney, such as the team at Branch & Dhillon, will be able to help you file a federal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to ensure that your rights are being protected during this delicate time.

Who Is Liable For Sexual Assault In the Workplace?

In the State of Texas, all individuals have a right to pursue a civil claim to gain compensation against their assaulter. However, when the assault occurs in the workplace, multiple parties may be considered at fault. A crime victim attorney will be able to help you determine which party is liable for your damages.

When the Employer Is Liable

An employer can be held liable for sexual assault if they had foresight that an employee was likely to commit a violent sexual offense. For example, employers who are open to hiring individuals who have recently been released from jail or prison still need to be aware of the offenses the individual committed. If they hire someone who has been suspected or convicted of sexual assault, that employer needs to take extra steps to protect their other employees.

Sometimes the employer may not be aware of who they are hiring due to circumstances beyond their control. An employer cannot be held responsible for sexual assault due to negligent hiring or negligent supervision if there was no foreseeable way for them to know that an employee would have committed such abusive behavior.

When a Third Party Is Responsible for Workplace Sexual Assault

A gavel onto of a law book with a set of legal scales on a desk.

In a civil lawsuit, the victim may be able to sue for compensation for damages against a third party. This can be the following:

  • The property owner—through premises liability
  • A contractor or vendor
  • Another person or entity who may have been acting negligently at the time of the incident

For a third party to be found negligent, it must be proven that they were careless in carrying out a duty. For example, the property owner has a responsibility to ensure that all visitors can navigate through a property safely. This means ensuring that all grounds don’t have hazards on them, there is adequate security, and any safety issues, such as a loose railing on a stairwell are taken care of. If the property owner knew they were in a bad area but did nothing to improve security and a crime took place on the property resulting in an injury, the property owner would be considered liable for the damages that the victim received. 

Determining which party is liable can be challenging in cases like this but having a competent crime victim attorney, such as the attorneys at Branch & Dhillon, P.C., on your side makes all the difference.

The Attorneys That Advocate For You

Branch & Dhillon, P.C. has been a strong advocate for crime victims across the Arlington, Texas area. We give a voice to the voiceless and ensure that they get the compensation they deserve to cover the cost of damages. If you or a loved one has been the victim of sexual assault in the workplace, our attorneys can help. Contact our team today to schedule a free no-obligation consultation to go over the facts of your case. Get started on the road to recovery by investing in the attorneys who are fully invested in you.

Workplace Sexual Assault FAQs

What Are the Steps to Reporting and Addressing Work Sexual Assault or Harassment in Texas?

If you are the victim of sexual assault or sexual harassment in Texas, act immediately. Here are the steps you should take:

1. Prioritize Your Safety: If you are in immediate danger, contact emergency services or the police.
2. Keep a Record of the Assault: It is important to document everything. This includes when the assault or the harassment happened, where it happened, and detailed descriptions of what happened if possible. In cases of assault, you should also be seen by a healthcare professional and get a Sexual Assault Nurse Examination to preserve any evidence left behind by the assault and to document any injuries.
3. Know Your Rights: Familiarize yourself with the Texas Labor Code and Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act. These legislations are designed to protect employees in the workplace. It is also important to know that the criminal offense can be addressed through the Texas Penal Code and you can seek compensation through a personal injury attorney.
4. Report the Incident to Your Employer: You will need to report the incident to your employer and your company’s human resources department. They will direct you on the procedures to properly report the incident. Once you file the report, your employer is legally obligated to investigate and take appropriate action. Be prepared to articulate the account of the harassment or assault.
5. File a Complaint: In some cases, you may need to file a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission. The Civil Rights Division of this organization handles all workplace discrimination complaints. If the incident was sexual assault, you will want to report it to the Texas Department of Public Safety and your local law enforcement.
6. Seek Legal Guidance: Get guidance from an attorney who specializes in crime victim cases to help you navigate the legal side of this case and be your advocate. They will be able to help you get the support and compensation you deserve to cover medical expenses and damages.
7. Get a Support Network: No one should have to recover from an incident like this on their own. We recommend reaching out to a specialized support group or organization committed to assisting survivors of sexual assault so you are supported throughout recovery.

What Types of Sexual Harassment and Assault Are Considered Criminal?

Sexual harassment cases are typically handled through civil laws in Texas rather than a criminal statute. However, the Texas Penal Code identifies the following behaviors as sexual assault and are punishable offenses:
1. Sexual assault or sexual battery
2. Indecent exposure
3. Stalking
4. False imprisonment

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