Whistleblower laws are laws, including federal and state laws, that provide protections and rights to whistleblowers. Whistleblowers are individuals, often employees, who report illegal activities which are being carried out by their employers and possible co-workers to the government or to an outside agency.

Whistleblowers provide employees the right to become whistleblowers. In addition, these laws protect employees from potential retaliatory acts of their employers.

For example, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for reporting illegal acts or blowing the whistle by taking certain actions, including:

  • Terminating the employee;
  • Denying the employee benefits; or
  • Demoting the employee.

If an individual’s employer takes any of these actions against them after they blow the whistle, the employee may be able to sue their employer for retaliatory discharge. Some of the most important federal whistleblower laws include:

  • The Whistleblower Protection Act;
  • The False Claims Act;
  • The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002;
  • The Notification and Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002, called the No-Fear Act;
  • The Military Whistleblower Protection Act; and
  • The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012.

Whistleblower employees blow the whistle on their employers by reporting their illegal or unethical behaviors to the appropriate authorities or commissions, which typically include law enforcement agencies.

There are several common reasons why whistleblowing occurs, including:

  • The employer is violating public health laws and the employer’s actions lead to illness or death;
  • The employer is violating workplace safety laws;
  • The employer violated or is violating hiring and firing laws;
  • The employer is discriminating against a protected class or activity;
  • Mismanagement of funds; or
  • Abuse of authority.

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 (WPEA), for example, strengthened the protections which were provided to federal employees under the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA). The WPEA protects employers who disclose evidence of their employer’s:

  • Waste;
  • Fraud; or
  • Abuse.

Pursuant to the WPA, federal employees were not eligible for whistleblower protections if the employees:

  • Were not the first individuals who disclosed the misconduct;
  • Made a disclosure to a coworker;
  • Made a disclosure to a supervisor;
  • Disclosed the consequences of a policy decision; or
  • Blew the whistle while they were carrying out job duties.

The WPEA revised the WPA in certain aspects, including:

  • Overhauls the WPA;
  • Closes administrative loopholes in the WPA;
  • Terminates the monopoly on appeals previously held by the Federal Circuit Court; and
  • Does not remove any previously given rights and provides additional protections.

It is important to note that, although whistleblowers are protected by whistleblowing laws, they may still be terminated from their position for reasons which are not related to their whistleblowing actions. For example, if the whistleblower also has a history of other work-related deficiencies, such as tardiness or absences, the employer may legally terminate that employee without violating any whistleblower laws.

If an individual wants to learn more regarding their protections as a whistleblower, they should consult with a local whistleblower attorney. In certain cases, hiring a whistleblower attorney prior to reporting their employer may have significant advantages.

One advantage may include not having to disclose the employee’s identity in order to file a claim. Another advantage may include the individual being able to persuade a government agency to join in the matter on their behalf.

It is important to note that the individual will typically not be permitted to file a lawsuit immediately after their employer retaliates against them. They will likely be required to submit their claim to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) prior to being permitted to file a civil lawsuit in federal court.

OSHA is a federal agency that hears cases involving discrimination as well as other types of employer misconduct. An employee may formally file a complaint with OSHA within 180 after they learn of the retaliation.

The typical steps for employee relief when they have been retaliated against include:

  • Consulting with their employer to determine if there are any available. The law requires employers to have reporting procedures;
  • If an agreement cannot be reached internally, file a claim with OSHA; and
  • If OSHA is unable to resolve the issue, the employee may be permitted to file a civil lawsuit.

In the event that an individual’s employer retaliates against them for being a whistleblower, they may be able to recover lost expenses, including back pay. In some cases, the employee may be reinstated to their former position.

What are New Jersey’s Whistleblower Protection Laws?

The State of New Jersey has laws which protect an employee who acts as a whistleblower by reporting their employer’s misconduct. This law is entitled the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, or CEPA.

CEPA prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee who discloses actions or policies of an employer which violate the law. This law also applies to employees who provide information regarding company violations to an investigative committee or before a board hearing.

In other words, in New Jersey, an employer is not permitted to punish an employee for blowing the whistle at their workplace. An employer cannot do any of the following in retaliation for their whistleblowing:

  • Deny the employee benefits;
  • Terminate the employee;
  • Reduce the employee’s wages.

Is New Jersey’s Law Any Different from Other Whistleblower Laws?

Yes, New Jersey’s law is different from other whistleblower laws in two ways. First, the CEPA places great emphasis on employees who work in the healthcare industry. For example, CEPA protects any employees who are certified healthcare professionals in cases of reporting improper or sub-quality patient health care.

In addition, CEPA includes a reference to the public policy of maintaining good health care provisions for the community. This is a unique aspect of the law which reflects the standard of care in the local economy in New Jersey.

Second, CEPA protects an employee who refuses to participate in company policies or actions which are against the law or that are in violation of public policy standards regarding health care. Many whistleblower laws do not specifically address an employee’s participation in questionable company practices.

Instead, the laws tend to focus on reporting issues. An employer is held to a higher standard of care under the CEPA. States are permitted to require more protections than the Federal standards.

How do I File a Complaint?

In order to file a complaint, an individual should make a report both internally with their employer as well as with an employment discrimination agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or OSHA. An employee is typically required to file with this type of agency prior to being able to file a civil lawsuit.

If the employee’s case involves a New Jersey healthcare organization, they may wish to report to a local healthcare governance board. If the employer has taken retaliatory action against the employee, they may be able to recover losses including back pay or be reinstated to their position if they were terminated, as noted above.

If the employee is unsure what steps to take or what agency to report the issue to, they should consult with a local whistleblower attorney.

Do I need a New Jersey Employment Lawyer to Handle My Report?

It is essential to have the assistance of an employment lawyer or a New Jersey wrongful termination attorney if you are facing any whistleblower issues at your job. Although it is not absolutely necessary to have an attorney’s help filing certain claims, your attorney can provide you with assistance as well as some peace of mind during what may be a stressful time.

Your attorney can advise you of the whistleblower laws in New Jersey and how they apply to your situation. They can assist you with filing any claims and ensure they are properly filed with the correct agency. Your attorney will assist you with evidence collection and represent you any time you appear in court.