Contrary to popular opinion, harassment does not just happen at work. While the workplace is a common source of harassment, it can actually happen anywhere. You can harass anyone that you interact with, from a neighbor to someone working at a business you patronize. Some people find themselves accused of harassment after a practical joke gone wrong or a botched attempt at flirting.
What you think of as harmless flirting or banter could actually feel intimidating or harassing to the other person involved. While that doesn’t mean you should avoid interacting with other people, it does mean you should take care with how you approach other people.
Familiarizing yourself with how the state of Texas defines harassment can help ensure that your interactions with others don’t qualify as harassment under the law.
Obscene or suggestive communications or behaviors qualify as harassment
You may think that propositioning the waitress at a restaurant in front of your friends is a harmless joke. While you may have intended nothing and feel like it’s not a big issue, the waitress probably doesn’t feel the same way. She may have felt that there were menacing overtones to what you said or that you were overly lewd or lascivious in how you said it.
While most people will not take legal action over a single negative interaction, if you repeatedly make comments or attempt to flirt with the same service workers, they may end up taking legal action against you. Many employers will ban customers accused of staff harassment from their premises.
In some cases, other staff members, customers or even security cameras may help corroborate claims against you. This could lead to serious criminal and civil consequences.
Threatening or aggressive language and behaviors may also be harassment
Harassment is not always sexual in nature. It can be insulting, rude or threatening. Things that you say to other people, the gestures you make to them or even your communications online via social media could constitute harassment.
The more aggressive and shocking your statement, the more likely it is that the other person will view it as harassing. It is generally a good practice to not write anything online that you would not say to someone’s face. Beyond that, you may want to implement a personal rule of not saying things to people that would hurt you or upset someone you love if the situation were different.
Being careful to respect other people in the public domain is important, but sometimes mistakes happen. If you find yourself accused of harassment for something you said or did, you need to familiarize yourself with Texas laws on harassment and your options for defending yourself against those claims.