New Jersey has some of the strongest statutes in the nation to protect whistleblowers. A whistleblower is someone who reports a person or organization that they believe is engaged in wrongdoing, illegal activities, or corruption. Quite often, the whistleblower is an employee, but they can also be someone who does business with or hears something about the company, such as a client, supplier, or even a contractor. A whistleblower can be anyone who witnesses or is told about an illicit or illegal activity.
Whistleblowing often poses a dilemma for employees. They may worry that they will be fired or retaliated against in the workplace for speaking up. Third parties, such as clients and contractors, might be afraid of losing business or being retaliated against by their own employers. However, there are both state and federal laws that protect any whistleblower from retaliation. An experienced lawyer knows these laws and how to protect whistleblowers against retaliation.
What is Considered Whistleblowing?
Whistleblowing includes the following:
- Disclosing or threatening to disclose an employer’s policies, practices, or activities that the employee reasonably believes violates a law, rule, or regulation.
- For health care professionals, whistleblowing means disclosing or threatening to disclose an employer’s practices or policies that the professional believes negatively impacts the quality of patient care.
- Testifying to a public entity that is conducting an investigation about a violation.
- Refusing to participate in an employer’s practice, policy, or activity that the employee believes is illegal.
What is the Conscientious Employee Protection Act in New Jersey?
There are several federal and state laws that protect conscientious employees who want to stand up for justice. New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) protects a person who either reports or refuses to partake in their employer’s fraudulent or criminal behavior. While it is not required to prove the employer is guilty of anything, the employee must have facts that cause them to reasonably believe that fraudulent or criminal behavior occurred.
To be protected under the CEPA, the employee must not have disclosed their suspicion of wrongdoing publicly without first bringing it to a supervisor’s attention. An exception would be if the employee believes that the supervisor is involved in or aware of the wrongdoing.
There are cases in which employees may fear for their safety if they disclose their facts about criminal or fraudulent behavior. However, an employee can still be covered under the CEPA.
What Actions are Protected?
A whistleblower is protected in the following circumstances:
- Reporting workplace safety violations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or other entities.
- Refusing to commit an illegal act or to participate in a policy or procedure employee believes is fraudulent or criminal.
- Making a Workers’ Compensation claim.
- Reporting improper quality of patient care in a health care setting to an outside entity.
- Disclosing a violation of the law, governmental mismanagement, or abuse of authority in civil service or public employment.
- Opposing an unlawful discriminatory practice or filing a complaint, testifying in a proceeding, or assisting in a proceeding concerning violations.
What Should I Do if I am Facing Retaliation?
A lawyer can protect a whistleblower against retaliation by fighting for their rights. Under the CEPA, an employee who has been retaliated against by their employer has the right to do the following:
- Get a court injunction to halt the ongoing retaliation.
- An employee can recover lost wages and benefits.
- Be reinstated to the same or equivalent position.
- Be compensated for costs related to retaliation, including attorney fees.
Employer acts of retaliation can include:
- Termination, suspension, demotion, or denial of promotion can be retaliation.
- Unjustified negative performance evaluations or written warnings.
- Unjustified damaging or adverse references.
- Increased surveillance of an employee’s actions and work.
It is important to note that retaliation is not always obvious, it can be done in subtle ways. If the employer’s actions deter the employee from making a complaint, it may be considered retaliation.
Who Else is Protected Under the CEPA?
Employees receiving Workers’ Compensation benefits are protected against retaliation or backlash for filing claims after work accidents. An injured worker is also protected if they file a complaint to the OSHA about a workplace hazard.
Also, New Jersey daycare workers are protected from employer retaliation if they report to the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP).
What is the NJLAD?
The NJLAD prohibits discrimination and harassment based on the following:
The law applies in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation, including businesses, restaurants, schools, summer camps, and medical providers. The anti-discrimination provisions mean that an employer cannot fire someone, pay someone less money, or refuse to hire or promote someone because of their race. Similarly, a housing provider cannot refuse to rent an apartment to a couple because of their sexual orientation. A place of public accommodation cannot refuse service to someone because of their religion.
The NJLAD also prohibits bias-based harassment. That means if someone is being subjected to bias-based harassment, an employer, housing provider, or place of public accommodation must take reasonable steps to stop the harassment. Supervisors are not the only entities committing harassment, coworkers, tenants, and patrons can also participate in illegal behaviors.
The NJLAD also prohibits quid pro quo sexual harassment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment is when a person in a position of power demands sex or sexual favors in exchange for favorable treatment, such as continued employment or a promotion.
The NJLAD prohibits retaliation against a person for complaining about discrimination or bias-based harassment or otherwise exercising or attempting to exercise their rights under the law. For example, an employer cannot fire someone for reporting sexual harassment to the Human Resources (HR) department. Anyone who believes their rights under the NJLAD have been violated may file a complaint with the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) within 180 days of the incident.
What is the Family Medical Leave Act and Qui Tam Lawsuits?
The federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects employees who choose to take family leave from employer retaliation. If an employee is facing retaliation because of leave, they should speak to a lawyer.
The Qui Tam provisions within the False Claims Act (FCA) allow people who are aware of or have evidence of fraud against the government to bring suit on the behalf of the United States. They reward citizens if their case successfully recovers funds for the government while offering protection against whistleblowing and retaliation.
There are many other federal and state statutes that protect whistleblowers or victims of workplace retaliation. An accomplished lawyer will be able to provide legal counsel to a victim.
Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Help Whistleblowers Encountering Workplace Retaliation
It is illegal to retaliate or harass whistleblowers. If you believe you are facing retaliation after filing a complaint or report, it is advantageous to speak to a lawyer. Our Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. protect whistleblowers in the workplace. We will fight for your rights to compensation. Contact us online or call us at 215-569-1999 for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.