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Case looks at issue of protected conduct under MN Human Rights Act

We have previously spoken on this blog about the topic of workplace retaliation. As we’ve noted, employees are protected from retaliation by two important statutes at the state level, one of which is the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The law prohibits employers from taking adverse action against employees who engage in protected activities.

One important protected activity under the law is reporting sexual harassment, discrimination, and workplace misconduct. It only makes sense that employees should be protected from employer lashback when they report illegal or inappropriate behavior. One of the questions still being worked out, though, is exactly when employees are protected for reporting conduct in the workplace. Specifically, are employees protected from retaliation for reporting behavior that doesn’t rise to the level of being illegal? 

A recent Minnesota Court of Appeals decision dealt with this issue, and ultimately came down in favor of the employee. The employee in the case was a woman who reported sexually offensive conduct by coworkers to her employer and was ultimately terminated when she refused to resign for reporting the incident. The issue the court decided was whether reporting the sexually offensive conduct was protected activity, even though the conduct itself was an isolated incident and not enough to sustain a sexual harassment claim.

In this case, it was decided that employers have the right to report all sexually offensive conduct without fear of reprisal, regardless of whether the conduct is enough to sustain a harassment claim. Employers, as a result, a required to take all complaints of sexual harassment seriously, and may not retaliate against an employee for reporting such conduct.

For employees who have been subject to adverse treatment in the workplace after reporting sexual harassment or sexually offensive conduct, it is important to work with an experienced attorney to ensure they have guidance and advocacy navigating  the legal process. This is particularly important in cases where the employer is not taking complaints of misconduct seriously. 

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