Whistleblowing – Becoming the Pariah
Whistleblower Protection: New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act
We often hear about whistleblowers in the news, but what exactly is a whistleblower? A whistleblower is an employee who raises his or her hand, and speaks up, when the company, or government agency, he or she works for breaks the law or engages in other unscrupulous behavior. This could include things like, an elaborate accounting hoax, allowing sexual harassment to take place, a Ponzi scheme, illegal price fixing, or privacy violations.
In New Jersey, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”), N.J.S.A 34:19-1 et seq., promotes whistleblowing. It encourages employees to not be afraid, and speak up, when they become aware of illegal or fraudulent behavior by their employers. Blowing the whistle is no easy task. It causes a lot of stress for the whistleblower (and often his or her family). People want to do the right thing, but they don’t want to lose their job. Choosing whether to object to, or report, illegal or fraudulent behavior is a big decision.
Thankfully, the law in New Jersey protects those brave individuals who come forward and point the finger at companies and government agencies engaging in shady behavior. Under CEPA, an employer may not retaliate against a whistleblower by firing, demoting, or transferring him or her. In addition, CEPA protects whistleblowers from being subjected to “retaliatory harassment.” This means employers cannot abuse or intimidate whistleblowers – or otherwise subject them to a hostile work environment.
Unlike some other discrimination laws, CEPA protects independent contractors from retaliatory practices. For purposes of whistleblowing, independent contractors are considered “employees;” and therefore, protected by the law.
CEPA provides plenty of incentive for employers to back off any thoughts they may have of retaliating against a whistleblower. Whistleblowers, who are subjected to retaliatory actions, may be entitled to compensatory damages (for the emotional distress associated with whistleblowing), punitive damages (to punish the company/agency), and attorneys’ fees. They may even be entitled to back pay, front pay, and reinstatement (if they were terminated).
If your employer has retaliated against you for disclosing or threatening to disclose what you reasonably believed was illegal or wrongful conduct, our New Jersey whistleblower lawyers can help you. Call us at (973) 509-8500 to schedule a free consultation.