The New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”: N.J.S.A.: 34:19-1 et seq.) prohibits an employer from taking “any retaliatory action against an employee” who:
· Reports or threatens to report to a supervisor or public body any activity, policy, practice, or relationship that the employee “reasonably believes” was in violation of a law, rule, or regulation;
· Reports or threatens to report to a supervisor or public body any activity that the employee reasonably believes to be fraudulent or criminal;
· Participates in an investigation of their employer or testifies in a hearing against their employer for any potentially illegal conduct; or
· Objects to or refuses to participate in any activity, policy, or practice that the employee reasonably believes to be illegal, fraudulent, criminal, or in clear violation of public policy.
New Jersey also recognizes a common law exception to “at-will” employment for terminations that violate public policy. Similar statutory laws are in place in New York to protect whistleblowers, including additional protections for whistleblower actions taken against conduct that poses a “danger to public health or safety.”
Such laws recognize that diligent employees are the first line of defense against corporate wrongdoing and must be protected from employer scaremongering. “Retaliatory action” is thus defined broadly under CEPA, including termination, suspension, demotion, or any other tangible adverse job actions.
Certain whistleblowing activities may not be covered by CEPA: For instance, if an employee reports that their employer is not following its own “best practices” guidelines or policies, but not violating any laws, rules, or regulations, an employee is likely not protected by CEPA.
CEPA also provides certain protections to employers, so employees have to be careful in bringing a case. Unless the employee is sure that at least one supervisor knows about wrongdoing, the whistleblower must submit written notice to the employer to allow them to correct things before reporting it to a public body, otherwise, CEPA won’t protect them from retaliation. In addition, if an employee brings an action that is frivolous – in other words, if the employee didn’t “reasonably believe” there was any wrongdoing – a court may order the employee to pay the employer’s legal fees.
People who make sure that their employers are operating within the law should be commended, not fired, suspended, intimidated or demoted. If you believe you’ve suffered retaliatory action for protected whistleblower activity, please call or contact Matsikoudis & Fanciullo. We can consult with you for free and help determine if you should bring a case.