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June 28, 2024 | DisputeEmployment

Are Whistleblowers Protected from Retaliation in New Jersey?

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Yes, under certain circumstances, those who “blow the whistle” on violations of law at work are protected from retaliation by their employer in New Jersey.

The Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA)

The New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) is a state whistleblower protection statute that allows an employee to sue their employer in certain circumstances.

CEPA protects employees from retaliation, including, for example, from being fired, demoted, suspended, passed up for a promotion, or harassed, due to an employee objecting to something they believe violated the law.  This encompasses several types of conduct from the employee, including:

  • Disclosing or threatening to disclose information about a believed violation of law to a supervisor or public body
  • Providing information, including through testimony, about a believed violation of law to public investigators (the employee generally must first given written notice to the employer and afford reasonable time for the employer to correct the violation)
  • Objecting to or refusing to participate in any activity, policy or practice that the employee believes is fraud, a violation of the law, or a violation of a clear public policy

Limits of CEPA

CEPA only allows legal action related to whistleblowing that serves a public purpose.  In practice, this means that employees generally are not protected when they object to or disclose information about violations of internal company rules that do not violate the law.

CEPA allows an employee with a successful claim to recover attorneys’ fees from the lawsuit, in addition to money damages for lost wages and other harms.  Reinstatement to a former position may also be available in certain circumstances.

Starting on the date of adverse action by an employer, the employee must initiate a claim under CEPA within one year in order to avoid forfeiting the claim.

Making a Claim Under CEPA

To make a successful claim under CEPA, an employee must demonstrate all of the following:

  • The employee reasonably believed that the employer’s conduct was violating either a law, rule, or regulation promulgated pursuant to law, or a clear mandate of public policy.
  • The employee performed a “whistle-blowing” activity.
  • An adverse employment action was taken against the employee.
  • A causal connection exists between the whistle-blowing activity and the adverse employment action.

Although an initial claim does not require documentary evidence to back it up, later litigation requires hard evidence.  Collecting documents related to the employer’s violations and to the retaliation is essential for that purpose.  When gathering evidence such as statements from co-workers or others, make sure to follow relevant laws, including being mindful of  New Jersey law on recording conversations.

Conclusion

In addition to CEPA, there are also federal and other state laws that may protect employees from retaliation by employers who they believe have engaged in violations of law.  If you believe you have witnessed lawbreaking at work or have been fired for trying to address it, it is important to discuss all your legal options with an experienced employment attorney.  Feel free to contact us to speak with a member of our team.

Contributions to this blog by Ru Hochen.

 

 

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
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