Laws that protect employees are in place to make sure all employees are treated fairly and respectfully in an environment that is free from harassment and unfair employment practices. Employees across the United States have the right to work in an equitable environment that provides them certain rights afforded by the law.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, no person should face discrimination in the workplace because of their race, color, religion, sex, gender, and national origin. An important part of the Act provides that no retaliatory measures be taken against an employee for filing an internal complaint, filing a charge with a regulatory agency, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), standing up against harassment, or participating in an investigation.
Besides federal laws, employees are protected by state laws. New Jersey in particular provides employees protection against retaliation as a result of whistleblowing. The main New Jersey statute that protects employees against retaliatory acts is called the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), or the Whistleblower Act.
It is important that all New Jersey employees are not only familiar with their rights, but also know what to do in the event that those rights are violated. Thus, it is wise to take a look at what measures New Jersey has taken to protect workers.
What Is a Whistleblower?
Whistleblowers are individuals who report illegal activities being conducted by their company or coworkers to an outside agency or internal authority. Some employees may submit a verbal or written complaint within the company. Others may submit a formal complaint to an outside agency that is in the position to conduct an investigation and/or fix the injustice that has taken place.
What Are Protections Under the CEPA?
The CEPA prohibits retaliatory acts against employees by their employers or coworkers. This law provides protection to employees who are basically standing up against wrongdoing conducted against them, other employees, or the general public. In short, the CEPA is in place to assure that employees who report illegal activities as whistleblowers are not targeted by their employers or coworkers in any way for doing so.
The CEPA specifically prohibits retaliatory measures in the event that an employee discloses to a supervisor or public agency an activity, policy, or practice that is considered in violation of a specific law or regulation as provided by the state. This includes licensed or certified health care professionals who have legitimate concerns about the inadequate or improper care of patients.
The CEPA provides protection for employees who provide information to a public agency. This includes protection in the event that an employee testifies to an agency during or for the purpose of an investigation or hearing being conducted to determine if there has been a violation of law or regulation exercised by an employer.
It is important to note that the CEPA extends to any illegal activities or practices being conducted by two or more employers where a business relationship exists.
The CEPA protects employees who provide information involving deception or misrepresentation by an employer. This involves an employer who knowingly deceives someone with whom a business relationship has in some way taken place. This constitutes a shareholder, investor, client, patient, customer, or any present or former employee.
Employees are also protected in the event that they refuse or object to taking part in any policy, practice, or activity that they believe to be in violation of a law or regulation. This includes any acts or laws that are in violation of public health and environmental laws.
For the CEPA to provide protection when a charge has been filed, an employee should have already taken the proper steps provided by the Act. For protection against retaliation to take place, an employee should have given written notice to an employer or supervisor about the alleged illegal activity, practice, or policy that has taken place.
Once a complaint has been given, the employer should have been given a reasonable opportunity to correct or stop the problem. The exception is when the employee believes that the appropriate authorities of the company to whom an employee would complain already know about the incident that has taken place, or when the employee is in fear of physical harm in retaliation for the disclosure that would take place.
The CEPA provides employees and ex-employees with a number of solutions as a result of a successful inquiry or investigation. These include compensation for lost wages or bonuses, reinstatement of employment, damages for emotional pain and suffering, punitive damages, reinstatement of employee benefits, and recovery of attorney fees.
What Are Common Reasons for Whistleblowing?
Although whistleblowers are given protection against retaliation for disclosing illegal company practices, environmental or health concerns, or fraud, to name a few, one of the most common whistleblower complaints is harassment. Harassment is prohibited by federal discrimination laws. It is also prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967.
The prohibited act of harassment, despite being against the law, is ubiquitous. It is also in many instances difficult to prove, especially if there is no witness to corroborate an employee’s claim. Harassment is described in general terms as inappropriate behavior directed toward an employee because of a protected identifying characteristic, such as race, gender, age, or disability.
State laws that protect employees against retaliation for whistleblowing offer employees the opportunity to feel more comfortable about coming forward and disclosing acts of harassment. These laws are set in place to provide protection against specific violations or crimes as set forth by the state.
Other common reasons for whistleblowing include:
- Violations of health laws by employers that lead to illness or death.
- Violations of workplace safety laws and regulations that could lead toward injury or death.
- Illegal hiring and firing practices.
- Discrimination against a protected class.
- Abuse of authority.
- Mishandling of funds, especially those that affect employees’ salaries and pensions.
Other Laws That Protect Whistleblowers
Additional New Jersey laws that protect employees from retaliation are the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA), and the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (NJWHL.)
Federal laws include:
- The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which provides whistleblowers protection in publicly-traded corporations.
- The False Claims Act, which provides the opportunity for people who do not work for the government to file a claim against the government or its agencies.
- The Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002, which is specifically for employees of federal agencies and elevates the agencies’ standard practices.
- The Whistleblower Protection Act, which is also for employees of federal agencies and is specifically for the protection of whistleblowers.
Should a Whistleblower Hire a Lawyer?
If you are a whistleblower, the assistance of an experienced lawyer is important for you to have the best chance of success in receiving compensation or reinstatement of a job. A lawyer can guide you as to the best course of action, what to do or not do, and the appropriate agency to file a claim.
Moreover, it is important that you have a clear understanding of whistleblower laws before pursuing a claim. A lawyer can also explain your rights, help collect evidence, speak to witnesses, and represent you.
Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Represent Whistleblowers Who Have Faced Retaliation
If you have faced retaliatory measures for reporting an illegal activity or action, one of our experienced Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. will fight hard to get you the best solution possible. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients in South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.