What is the Legal Definition of a Whistleblower in NJ?
When you’re a child, you are told not to tattle. But when you witness violations of your rights or the rights of your coworkers, violation of important regulations, or outright fraud or crime, it is important to speak up. Fortunately, federal and state law in New Jersey both work to protect those who step up and blow the whistle on their employers. However, it is important to understand what exactly qualifies you as a whistleblower, and when the protections attach. If you were terminated, but you think you qualify as a whistleblower, it is important to talk to an attorney about your case. North Jersey whistleblower retaliation lawyer Usmaan Sleemi offers free consultations on wrongful termination cases and retaliation claims.
What Counts as a Whistleblower Under New Jersey Law?
In New Jersey, there are robust protections for employees who take a stand against their employer’s violations. The NJ statute that protects whistleblowers is called the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), commonly known as the “Whistleblower Act.” This law protects employees who see something and say something against negative employment decisions their boss makes in retaliation for speaking up.
To qualify, you must meet the definition of a whistleblower. This statute creates 5 main situations where the whistleblower is protected. These situations are as follows:
An employee is protected if they report what they believe to be a “violation of a law, or a rule or regulation issued under the law.” This protects employees who report to a supervisor or any “public body.” It also protects healthcare professionals who report what they believe is “improper quality of patient care.”
An employee is protected if they testify or otherwise provide information to a public “investigation, hearing or inquiry into any violation of law, or a rule or regulation.” This means administrative law boards, police, federal agencies, and others who might investigate violations or hold hearings. It also protects healthcare professionals in similar situations.
Sometimes an employee may reveal lies or falsehoods that expose their employer. That employee is protected if the information involves any “deception” or “misrepresentation,” and is reported to a:
- Shareholder or investor,
- Employee (current or former), or
- Government body.
Even if the employee merely believes the actions to be crime or fraud, they are protected for reporting them. An employee is protected after revealing any “activity, policy or practice” that might defraud anyone listed above (e.g. investors, clients, patients).
Sometimes a whistleblower does not disclose problems immediately but may refuse to participate in illegal activities. An employee is protected if they object to joining in “any activity, policy or practice” which they believe to be:
- Against the law,
- In violation of some rule,
- Poor quality healthcare,
- Criminal, or
- Otherwise bad for “public health, safety or welfare or protection of the environment.”
Steps to Get Whistleblower Protections
If you qualify under one of the above categories, you do not automatically qualify for whistleblower protections. If the issue you are blowing the whistle on is one that involves disclosing information to some public body (e.g. a regulatory agency or the police), you need to tell your employer/supervisor first.
In many cases, your first step should always be to notify your employer or supervisor about the issue. This notification must be in writing, under the Act. You must also give them a reasonable time afterward to correct their mistakes. If they don’t, then you can report the problems.
If a whistleblower “reasonably believes” their supervisor/employer already knows about the issue, there’s no need to notify them first. Additionally, if you are afraid of physical harm or violence and the issue is an emergency, you don’t need to give your employer notice. Instead, you can go straight to disclosure.
What Protections Do Whistleblowers Get in NJ?
If you report your employer’s fraud, violations, or other issues, you are protected from “any retaliatory action.” That should include any negative outcomes that come as a direct result of your report, testimony, objection, etc.
Many times, employers may face official or unofficial sanctions at work when they make whistleblower reports. These negative employment outcomes could include:
- Shunning or bullying in the workplace,
- Docked pay,
- Downgraded office or work conditions,
- Losing accounts or projects,
- Increased hard labor tasks, or
These are just some examples, and other negative employment decisions or outcomes may also qualify as retaliation. The disclosure must be the root cause of the negative outcome to get protections. This means that if your employer has an alternative reason to justify the outcome (e.g. a track record of lateness), the Whistleblower Act may be unable to protect you. Talk to an attorney today to understand your protections and options.
North Jersey Whistleblower Retaliation and Termination Attorney
If you reported illegal, fraudulent, or unethical activity at work, and your employer fired you or took other actions against you, you may be entitled to a wrongful termination or retaliation lawsuit. For a free consultation on your case, contact the Northern NJ employment lawyer at The Law Offices of Usmaan Sleemi today at 973-453-4060.