In the law, the phrase “under protest” is used in written statements that indicate for the record that someone is performing an obligation reluctantly. Simply writing this phrase on a contract, check, or other document associated with an obligation is usually not enough. The nature of the protest must be articulated in a written document. When something is performed under protest, it means that the person performing the obligation may register an objection later.
This phrase actually is rather nebulous under the law, and legally, the phrase “without prejudice” is more appropriate. When someone does something without prejudice, it is done with the understanding that this person is not giving up any rights or admitting liability. For example, someone can deposit a check written in partial satisfaction of a debt with a note that it is without prejudice, meaning that the check is not accepted as final payment and that additional action may be taken to recover the rest of the amount owed.
One area in which the phrase does have legal standing is in the tax code in some nations. People are required to pay their taxes whether or not they dispute their tax liability. If someone intends to file a dispute for a refund, that person can pay taxes “under protest.” The payment is accepted as voluntary payment of taxes and the protest indicates that the taxpayer intends to pursue additional legal action.
When people pay taxes this way, they send in the payment in full for the tax bill along with a written document outlining the nature of the protest. The tax agency accepts the payment, recording the taxpayer as current, and the taxpayer pursues action to recover funds paid in excess. In some tax codes, if taxes are not paid this way, the taxpayer may not be able to take action to demand a refund. As a result, paying taxes under protest is critical for preserving the right to contest the bill at a later date.
Performing obligations under protest allows people to satisfy an obligation to avoid further legal entanglement while preserving their right to object to the obligation. People who are in a position where they need to do something without prejudice should consult a lawyer. The lawyer can help draft a statement that uses the appropriate language and can provide assistance with the formal objection when the person is ready to file it.