Every Texas employer should consult with legal counsel early and often about how to create a workplace in which employees and job applicants feel protected from illegal discrimination and harassment.
In addition, with direction and advice from an employment law attorney, the employer should create and enforce strong anti-discrimination policies and procedures that carefully and clearly communicate to employees what they should do if they experience it or become aware of it.
An important part of this effort can be to draft an employee handbook that spells out in writing the employer's expectations that everyone in the workplace conduct themselves in accord with federal and Texas laws protecting employees from unlawful discrimination and harassment based on:
- National origin
- Genetic information
- Sex, including pregnancy and sexual orientation
Other protected characteristics may be established by local ordinance.
It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee or job applicant who reports discrimination or harassment, files a complaint or cooperates in a related investigation or the claim of another person.
The handbook should also provide clear direction to anyone who feels that he or she has been the victim of discrimination or harassment at work about how to report the problem and what will be done in response.
Seek legal counsel
An experienced employment attorney can help an employer to create these policies and draft its handbook. The lawyer will be up to date on the most recent laws and cases that create the legal standards the employer must meet.
A thorough, clear handbook is an important piece of an overall strategy to protect the company from legal liability for discrimination or harassment, which can result if an employee files a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC or the Texas Workforce Commission or TWC. (A filing with the TWC will also be shared with the EEOC under an agreement between them.) These government agencies are responsible for enforcing civil rights laws, including investigating complaints, and they cooperate in their work on specific claims.
An employee not satisfied with the result of an agency investigation may be able to then file an employment discrimination lawsuit in state or federal court. Clear and up-to-date policies and procedures can ultimately prevent an employer from being the object of such agency claims and lawsuits.