Kalandra Wheeler
Texas Employment Lawyer Kalandra Wheeler

It’s that time of year again! As we roll into the holiday season, workplaces are gearing up for festive celebrations, including customary work holiday parties. These events are intended to foster camaraderie and team spirit. However, it is crucial to be reminded of the potential risks they pose, particularly concerning sexual assault and harassment.

Work holiday parties often provide a welcome break from the daily grind, offering employees an opportunity to relax, socialize, and celebrate the achievements of the year. It’s a festive atmosphere, and it should be enjoyed. However, the combination of festive spirits and relaxed environments can sometimes blur professional boundaries, leading to inappropriate behavior. Such behavior can put employees at risk of being preyed upon, leading to significant liability for employers.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination, including sexual harassment. Title VII applies not only during regular work hours but also extends to work-related events, including holiday parties. Employers are responsible for creating a workplace free from discrimination and harassment, and this duty extends to off-site and after-hours events.

In the past, small employers (with fewer than 15 employees) in Texas might have avoided liability for sexual harassment claims stemming from these holiday events. Yet, due to a much-needed change in the Texas Labor Code, as of 2021, smaller operations can no longer avoid the responsibility of creating a safe party atmosphere for their employees. Whether an employer in Texas has one employee or one thousand employees, Texas law protects all employees from unwelcomed sexual harassment.

Aside from protecting employees from sexual harassment, employers must take action aimed at protecting employees when that behavior crosses the line from harassment to sexual assault. Non-consensual sexual contact or intercourse is a criminal act that includes, but is not limited to, rape, attempted rape, unwanted touching, and other forms of sexual coercion. Criminal penalties may apply to the perpetrator, but civil penalties may still apply to the employer.

Employers should take measures to protect their employees at events during the holiday season. They should create and communicate clear policies regarding appropriate behavior at work events. They should not only implement reporting mechanisms to encourage employees to come forward if they experience or witness inappropriate behavior but should also respond appropriately and take swift remedial action when those reports are made. Employers should never blame or retaliate against the victim or a reporting witness.

Victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault in the workplace – including work-sponsored events – should never remain silent. Remaining silent about sexual harassment perpetuates a culture of secrecy and enables the continuation of harmful behavior. Speaking out is crucial, as it sends a powerful message that such behavior will not be tolerated. Moreover, reporting instances of sexual harassment helps create a safer working environment for everyone, putting others on notice of the dangers present and shining a spotlight on employers when they have failed to protect employees and fail to respond to complaints appropriately.

Our hope is that you have a safe and enjoyable holiday season. However, if you are or have been subjected to unwelcomed sexual harassment or assault and want to know your rights, our lawyers are available for consultation.

Have fun and enjoy this holiday season! Celebrate successes and the end of 2023 and the newness of 2024. Just remember: (1) mistletoe at office holiday events should only be viewed as festive décor and not an invitation, and (2) martinis should be consumed with caution.

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Photo of Kalandra N. Wheeler Kalandra N. Wheeler

We asked Kalandra N. Wheeler, a Trial Attorney in the Houston office of Wiley Wheeler, P.C., to provide her sincere answers to a range of questions.  After reading, you will be more more abreast with the understanding and competency that Ms. Wheeler

We asked Kalandra N. Wheeler, a Trial Attorney in the Houston office of Wiley Wheeler, P.C., to provide her sincere answers to a range of questions.  After reading, you will be more more abreast with the understanding and competency that Ms. Wheeler brings.

1.Why did you start practicing labor and employment law?

I wanted to be able to help people that otherwise might not find help. Labor and employment laws affect most of society.  And – whether our results help one or many – our work and efforts as employment lawyers touch people in a real way in their every day lives.

2. Who is your favorite Supreme Court Justice?

Thurgood Marshall.

3. What do you think is the most important part of a good case?

The client. Good facts and evidence are definitely important. But good clients are a lawyers’ most valuable asset.  A good client: (1) is invested in their case; (2) works or worked hard for their employer; (3) can tell their story clearly and concisely; and (4) is someone that a jury will find sympathetic and relatable.

4. If you could write a new law, what would it do?

The Texas Workplace Anti-Bullying law.  I hear the stories, the ones told by employees looking for help. And in far too many of those stories the law offers no solution.  Every employee that goes to work and works hard to do the job they are hired to perform should be able to do so without abuse, harassment, and bullying. There is no justification for bullying, not in our schools, and not in our workplaces.

5. Besides Rob Wiley, P.C., what is the most interesting job that you have had?

For a year before law school, I worked as a lube tech for Jiffy Lube.  I spent hot summer days, working on hot cars, changing oil or flushing transmissions or radiators.  I never had a customer come back with a complaint.

6. How do you market yourself differently than others?

I tell clients what they need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear. Before a client begins down any path toward resolving an employment dispute, they need thoughtful, honest advice. I am a believer in justice and everyday people deserve competent representation in an arena that is difficult for non-lawyers to navigate.

7. What do you do when you’re not practicing law?

I spend time with family and friends.  I read true crime books.  I sew and draw.

8. How would you describe the color yellow to someone who could not see?

It’s not the intense heat of the sun during the month of August, but instead the softness of the sun on your skin just as the seasons change from Summer to Fall.  It’s warm. And soft to the touch.  It’s fresh squeezed lemonade with a hint of sugar.  Slightly cool, inviting, and happy.

9. What’s your favorite legal TV show?

Law & Order: SVU

10. If you could argue any case in history, what would it be?

The Karen Silkwood case. But really, I think that would be more about arguing and trying a case alongside Gerry Spence for the learning experience.

Kalandra N. Wheeler is a Trial Attorney in the Houston office of Wiley Wheeler, P.C.  She graduated from The University of Houston with a bachelor’s degree in political science.  Ms. Wheeler went on and received her law degree from The University of Arkansas.