Texas Criminal Harassment Law

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 How Is Criminal Harassment Defined in Texas?

In Texas, pursuant to Texas harassment laws in Penal Code Section 42.07, criminal harassment is defined as the intent to do any of the following to another individual:

  • Alarm;
  • Harass;
  • Annoy;
  • Embarrass;
  • Torment; or
  • Abuse.

How Do I Know If I Am Being Harassed?

Harassment may include any form of behavior that is:

  • Threatening;
  • Offensive;
  • Demeaning;
  • Belittling.

In the context of an individual’s workplace, harassment also includes behavior that is:

  • Hurtful;
  • Embarrassing;
  • Engaged for the purpose of undermining the individual in their workplace.

An example of harassment is when an employee makes constant jokes regarding an individual’s manner of dress at their place of employment. In many cases, harassment involves behavior that is ongoing because, in many cases, employees are fearful or hesitant to report these types of incidents.

Harassment that occurs in the workplace is referred to as a hostile work environment. Harassment may also exist, however, in places outside of a work environment.

For example, harassment may occur in settings including:

  • School environments;
  • Neighbors;
  • Religious groups;
  • Social groups;
  • Many other settings.

Harassment can involve issues including discrimination or hate crimes. Harassment that involves employment discrimination involves hostile, unwanted, or inappropriate behavior that occurs in the workplace.

Although workplace relationships are not considered harassment per se, it may be possible for a workplace relationship, especially if the relationship is a romantic one, to lead to a situation that may give rise to a harassment claim.

There are several ways in which a workplace relationship may create liability, including:

  • Sexual harassment claims;
  • Hostile work environment claims;
  • Conflict of interest claims.

Workplace relationships, especially ones between supervisors and subordinate employees, may expose employers to sexual harassment claims. Voluntary romantic relationships that end badly may result in a spurned employee who claims that their relationship was the result of targeting or coercion from their former significant other for harassment or humiliation out of spite.

Employees who are not a party to the relationship may be able to file a claim for a hostile work environment if that relationship results in pervasive verbal or sexual behavior in the workplace. The behavior must have had a significant effect on the employee and prevented them from properly performing their work.

Another type of claim that may arise is a conflict of interest claim. Workplace relationships often lead to:

  • Favoritism;
  • Work opportunities;
  • Perks and benefits being allocated inappropriately or in an unfair manner.

If an individual believes they are being harassed in Texas, they should consult with a local Texas attorney.

What Is Workplace Harassment?

Workplace harassment is considered to be an abusive or hostile environment between co-workers or between employees and employers. Usually, workplace harassment is resolved outside of the criminal justice system.

However, it may turn into a criminal matter if the harassment is severe enough. In Texas, there are separate laws that pertain to criminal harassment.

What About Harassment Outside of Work?

Harassment may, of course, exist in various settings and contexts other than a work environment. For example, sexual harassment may occur in schools at various grade levels.

In these cases, the harassment may involve conduct that is similar to workplace harassment. This may include:

  • Inappropriate touching;
  • Inappropriate advances;
  • Inappropriate jokes;
  • Other inappropriate behaviors.

Harassment may also occur in a manner that violates criminal laws. These may include instances of stalking as well as other behaviors that invade an individual’s privacy.

State laws governing criminal harassment may vary. Harassment may also occur in other contexts, including:

These types of cases can also be serious, especially when the victim feels that their personal safety is being threatened. Examples of harassment that is not work-related include:

  • Repeated, unwanted phone calls;
  • Repeated contact on social media outlets;
  • Stalking or following a person constantly and regularly;
  • Using various threats or coercive language to obtain a certain goal;
  • Issuing threats to an individual’s well-being, including threats to their loved ones.

In some cases, harassment may rise to the level of assault, battery, or hate crimes, especially in cases where the harasser’s conduct escalates to a level of violence.

What Is Stalking?

Stalking, in general, is criminal harassment. Stalking occurs when an individual makes a credible threat to another individual and, in connection with that threat, either repeatedly communicates with the individual or the individual’s immediate family or repeatedly follows the individual around.

Stalking may also occur when an individual looks through windows or is a peeping tom. An individual may repeatedly make obscene gestures or comments to another individual. In this case, it may be considered a form of criminal harassment or stalking if it is done with the intent to harass the individual.

What Are Some Consequences for Harassment?

A harassment case may lead to many consequences, including:

  • Penalties at work, including a demotion;
  • Termination, or the loss of a job;
  • Civil charges;
  • In certain cases, criminal charges, including:
    • A restraining order;
    • Criminal fines;
    • Jail time.

By law, employers are prohibited from terminating employees for reporting harassment in the workplace, called retaliatory discharge. This applies even in cases where it is determined that the claim is not true.

Knowingly filing a false claim for harassment, however, is also illegal and may result in criminal penalties for the individual who filed the false report.

What Must Be Proven for a Conviction of Criminal Harassment in Texas?

In order to prove criminal harassment in Texas, the state must show that the defendant intended to harass, alarm, or torment another individual by:

  • Initiating communication with the victim and, during the course of that communication, suggesting or requesting something that is obscene;
  • Communicating with a victim in a way that would cause them alarm by stating that someone they know suffered bodily injury or passed away;
  • Communicating a threat in a way that causes alarm to the victim who received the threat. The threat can be an intent to cause bodily injury to the victim, the victim’s property, or the victim’s family;
  • Making telephone calls and intentionally failing to hang or end the call;
  • Making repeated telephone calls in a way that will reasonably annoy, harass, abuse, torment, or offend the victim;
  • Sending repeated electronic communications in a way that will cause alarm, harass, embarrass, or offend the victim; and
  • Allowing someone who is harassing a victim to use their phone to make repeated phone calls.

What Does Obscene Refer to in a Harassment Charge?

In Texas, obscene is defined as communication that contains an offensive description or a solicitation for a sexual act.

How Do I File a Harassment Complaint?

An individual can file a criminal harassment complaint by calling 911 and reporting the incident or going to a nearby law enforcement department to make a complaint. An individual might need to file a workplace harassment complaint. If this is the case, they can submit their complaint to the Texas Workforce Commission’s Civil Rights Division online or by mail.

What Is the Punishment for Criminal Harassment in Texas?

In Texas, criminal harassment is a Class B misdemeanor for an individual’s first offense. This offense is punishable by:

  • Not more than 180 days in jail;
  • $2,000 fine;
  • Both county jail time and a fine.

If an individual receives a second or subsequent criminal harassment conviction, it will be classified as a Class A misdemeanor and is punishable by:

  • Approximately one year in jail;
  • $4,000 fine;
  • Both county jail time and fine.

Should I Talk to a Lawyer About My Case?

Harassment laws can be complex. You may need assistance with any legal harassment issue, whether it is in your workplace or in another setting. If that is the case, it may be helpful to consult with a Texas criminal lawyer.

A criminal harassment charge can be very serious. If you are charged with criminal harassment, it is in your best interests to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible.

Your attorney will advise you on how the laws in Texas apply to your case. In addition, your lawyer will represent you in court and help ensure that your rights are protected.

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