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Understanding your right to engage in protected activity

On Behalf of | Sep 15, 2021 | Employment Law

When you feel that there is something wrong in the workplace, you should feel like you can speak up to protect yourself, your rights, or other employees from illegal misconduct.

However, some employers will punish parties who do this or try to prevent them from engaging in what is called protected activity.

What is protected activity?

Protected activity refers to actions that oppose illegal workplace conduct, including discrimination and harassment. Some examples of what protected activity might entail include:

  • Reporting harassment to your supervisor
  • Participating in a discrimination investigation
  • Refusing to commit a crime
  • Being a whistleblower
  • Requesting an accommodation for a disability
  • Turning down a supervisor making unwelcome sexual advances

Employees should be able to engage in the actions listed above without fear of repercussions from their manager or employer.

Can I be fired for these activities?

Employers should not fire, demote or otherwise punish employees for asserting their rights. This is retaliation, and it is unlawful.

However, people have some misconceptions about retaliation that can create confusion over whether an employer has violated an employee’s rights.

For instance, employers cannot punish someone for participating in protected activity, but that does not mean employers cannot terminate or take adverse actions against an employee for other, lawful reasons. As an example, a person who reported harassment can still lose their job for poor performance.

And it is also possible that employers will fabricate reasons to fire an employee.

Because of this, it is crucial for individuals to retain paperwork related to their employment, including performance reviews, complaints filed and correspondence with your manager. These records, along with witness statements and other pieces of information, can help bolster a claim against an employer for wrongful termination, discrimination or harassment.

Protecting yourself when engaging in protected activity

Reporting misconduct or standing up to your employer can be stressful, especially when you are worried about whether it will cost you a job or promotion. If you are concerned about this, you can talk to an attorney before engaging in these activities to be sure you understand your rights.

If you feel your employer has already mistreated you, you may want to pursue a legal claim.