Tech Company Employees Stage Walkout in New York and Around the World Over Company’s Handling of Sexual Harassment Complaints

Over three thousand people gathered in New York City on November 1, 2018 as part of a worldwide “walkout” by Google employees. The walkout’s purpose was to protest the company’s reported handling of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations against a former executive. About twenty thousand employees worldwide participated in the walkout. The company later announced changes to its procedures in sexual harassment cases. In situations like this, where employees take direct action to demand change from employers, New York City sexual harassment attorneys should be aware of workers’ legal rights, and the extent of protection for workers who walk off the job.

Statutes like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibit employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of sex. This includes sexual harassment in various scenarios. Before aggrieved employees may go to court to sue for damages, they must make use of administrative procedures within the employer, if any, and within a government agency like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Most antidiscrimination statutes do not require employers to maintain any specific policies or practices regarding the investigation of sexual harassment allegations. The NYCHRL is an exceptions thanks to recent amendments. Employers are required, however, to apply whatever policies and practices they do maintain fairly and consistently.

The walkout by Google employees was not a “strike” in the common sense of the term, since it did not arise from a collective bargaining disagreement between the employer and a union. It still arguably falls under the types of activities protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). In addition to activities that are directly related to organizing for collective bargaining, the NLRA protects workers’ rights “to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of…mutual aid or protection.” 29 U.S.C. § 157. Employers may not “interfere with [or] restrain…employees in the exercise” of these rights. Id. at § 158(a)(1).

Various courts have held that a walkout, even without union representation, may constitute “concerted activity” protected by the NLRA when the purpose is “to present job related grievances to management.” Vic Tanny Int’l, Inc. v. NLRB, 622 F.2d 237, 241 (6th Cir. 1980). The U.S. Supreme Court ruled more than fifty years ago that the NLRA protected an employee walkout that resulted from “a running dispute between the machine shop employees and the company over the heating of the shop on cold days. NLRB v. Wash. Alum. Co., 370 U.S. 9, 15 (1962). Prior to that, the court had found that walkouts involving unlawful activity, violence, or breaches of employment contracts were not protected by the NLRA. Id. at 17, citing Southern S.S. Co. v. NLRB, 316 U.S. 31, 41 (1942) (“[I]t is admitted that, had the strike occurred on the high seas, the participants would have been guilty of mutiny”); NLRB v. Fansteel Corp., 306 U.S. 240, 256 (1939) (the NLRA does not “support employees in acts of violence against the employer’s property”); NLRB v. Sands Mfg. Co., 306 U.S. 332, 344 (1939) (the NLRA “does not prohibit an effective discharge for repudiation by the employe of his [employment] agreement”).

The experienced and skilled employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of workers in New York City in claims for sex discrimination and sexual harassment. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case, please contact us today at (212) 248-7431 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Superhero Sequel Will Be First Film to Apply New Industry Guidelines on Sexual Harassment, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 5, 2018

Federal Judiciary Announces Steps to Address Its Own Sexual Harassment Problems, New York Employment Attorney Blog, September 17, 2018

Investigation Reveals Extent of Sexual Harassment Against Hotel Maintenance Workers in New York City and Nationwide, New York Employment Attorney Blog, August 13, 2018

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