The #MeToo movement has emboldened many women (and some men) who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to courageously come forward and share their experiences. In many instances, these acts of sexual harassment or assault occur in the workplace. A woman who has been sexually harassed or assaulted by a co-worker or supervisor may struggle in deciding how to best address the situation. Understandably, an employee may be concerned about the impact that reporting sexual harassment can have on her job or career. The following questions (among others) often arise:
- What happens after I report sexual harassment?
- Will I miss out on valuable career opportunities?
- Will my employer set me up to fail?
- Will my employer fire me?
- Am I protected if my employer retaliates against me?
Understanding the answers to these questions will often impact a decision on how to handle acts of sexual harassment or assault in the workplace.
Saying #MeToo at Work May Be Considered a Protected Activity
Critically, under federal, New York State and New York City employment laws, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who report a discriminatory practice – including sexual harassment. This is referred to under the law as engaging in a “protected activity.” Protected activity can take an array of forms, including formal written complaints, verbal complaints, refusals to engage in discriminatory conduct and even nonverbal protests. An employee’s complaint of discrimination constitutes protected activity even if the conduct in question cannot be proven to be discrimination — so long as the complaint is grounded in “good faith.”