Can your employer fire you for protesting in New York?

protestingNew Yorkers who have participated in the NYC protests following the Minneapolis police’s killing of George Floyd may be concerned that their employers could fire or retaliate against them for demonstrating. Although there have been incidents of looting and violence, the NYC protests have been largely peaceful and have taken place in all five of the city’s boroughs over the past 11 days.  Considering that the NYPD has arrested countless protestors on charges such as disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and unlawful assembly; and images and videos of protesters have been published on social media, New Yorkers may worry that their employers will find out about their involvement in demonstrations and punish them.  However, the New York Labor Law (NYLL) § 201-d also known as the “Legal Activities Law” forbids employment discrimination based on engagement in certain political and recreational activities.  The law implies that companies in New York cannot fire employees for protesting, but there are certain limitations to these protections. 

The Legal Activities Law 

The Legal Activities Law prohibits employers from refusing to hire, terminating, or discriminating against employees for their involvement in various political or recreational activities outside of work without any use of their employer’s equipment or property.  Political activities are defined as “(i) running for public office, (ii) campaigning for a candidate for public office, or (iii) participating in fund-raising activities for the benefit of a candidate, political party, or political advocacy group.”  The law describes recreational activities as hobbies outside of work hours such as sports, reading, exercise, art, etc.  It also protects New York workers from retaliation for their membership in a union.  Ultimately, New Yorkers can protest without fear of employer retaliation so long as they do so legally, outside of work hours, and without employer property or equipment. 

Exceptions to the Legal Activities Law

One major exception to this statute is that it does not protect employees from retaliation for their political or recreational activities if they were illegal regardless of whether they were actually charged with a crime.  Employers could deem protesting as illegal if demonstrators were marching in the street, using amplified sound, or gathered in a group of more than 20 people in a park without permits from the NYPD.

However, New York Human Rights Law prohibits employers from discriminating against workers or job applicants on the basis of their arrest history in many circumstances.  Thus, a worker may actually have greater legal protection against retaliation if they were arrested for their political or recreational activity than if they were not.  If they were arrested, it is illegal for their employer to ask about their criminal record or retaliate against them in many cases.  If they were not arrested, their employer has more discretion to interpret their political or recreational activity as illegal themselves and terminate them.  Thus, protesters who were fired due to their arrest during a demonstration could actually have stronger claims against their employers.  

Seek Legal Assistance 

If your employer has retaliated against you for protesting, seek legal assistance from the Law Office of Christopher Q. Davis, located in New York City. Contact us today at (646) 430-7930 to schedule a free case evaluation and receive experienced legal counsel.