New Jersey’s whistleblower law, known as the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 (“CEPA”), was passed in 1986. CEPA makes it unlawful for employers to retaliate against employees who disclose, oppose, or refuse to participate in unlawful conduct. As the Supreme Court of New Jersey recognized, in Abbamont v. Piscataway Township Board of Education and Cedeno v. Montclair State University, CEPA has two equally important and noble purposes. The first is to protect employees who are brave enough to do the right thing by standing up to their employers when faced with illegal workplace actions. The second is to discourage and, ultimately, stop employers from engaging in unlawful conduct. Despite those valuable and noteworthy purposes, more than thirty years after its passage, employees are still being retaliated against for blowing the whistle on unlawful conduct and employers continue to engage in unlawful conduct. But the whistleblower retaliation lawyers at Lenzo & Reis successfully fight against such retaliation because we understand that no one should be retaliated against for doing the right thing.What Does CEPA Prohibit?
CEPA makes it unlawful for employers to retaliate against employees who blow the whistle on unlawful workplace conduct.What Does It Mean to Engage in Protected Whistleblowing?
Although not everything employees complain about is protected whistleblowing under CEPA, the law protects employees from retaliation for engaging in a wide-array of activities. For example, employees engage in protected whistleblowing when they
- reveal or threaten to reveal to a supervisor or public body actions of their employer or some other entity with whom their employer has a relationship, which they reasonably believe violates the law, any rule, or regulation;
- give information to a government entity or testify about actions of their employer or some other entity with whom their employer has a relationship, which they reasonably believe violates the law, any rule, regulation, or public policy; or
- object to or refuse to participate in actions that they reasonably believe violate a law, rule, or regulation or is against public policy.
The last two kinds of whistleblowing are the broadest for two reasons. First, the objection or refusal does not need to be made to anyone in particular (like a supervisor or public body as required for disclosure or testimony). Second, the underlying wrongful conduct does not even have to be something the employer (or an employer with whom there is a business relationship) is doing; it could be something an unrelated third party is doing.
In 1996, the New Jersey legislature recognized that health care professionals need legal protections from retaliation because they were being pressured into accepting seriously inadequate staffing levels or delegating their responsibilities to unqualified staff. As a result, CEPA was amended at that time, to protect licensed healthcare professionals from retaliation if they reveal or threaten to reveal to a supervisor or the government, provide information to a governmental agency or testify about, or refuse to participate in, conduct that they reasonably believe constitutes improper patient care.What If I Was Wrong and the Conduct That I Complained About Did Not Actually Violate the Law?
In 2003, in Dzwonar v. McDevitt, the New Jersey Supreme Court made clear that CEPA protects all whistleblowers from retaliation even if those employees cannot prove that their employers or co-workers actually violated the law as long as they show that they had a reasonable belief that the law was violated. How can employees show that they had a reasonable belief that they were violating the law? This is not as difficult as it sounds. Essentially, employees need only explain the facts that would objectively lead someone to believe that the law was broken. This is important because requiring an actual violation of the law to occur before entitling whistleblowers to protection from retaliation would effectively discourage workers from complaining for fear that they were wrong on the law. Yet, in 1998, the Supreme Court of New Jersey made clear, in Mehlman v. Mobil Oil Corp., that the purpose is not to turn whistleblowing employees into lawyers but, rather, to protect from retaliation employees who object to actions that they reasonably believe violate the law or pose a danger to public health, safety or welfare.What If Blowing the Whistle Is Something You Did as Part of Your Job Duties?
Our New Jersey whistleblower attorneys have long advocated that CEPA protects all New Jersey whistleblowing employees even when defense attorneys argued that employers could retaliate against those whose whistleblowing occurs within the scope of their regular job duties. CEPA makes it unlawful for an employer to unlawfully retaliate against an “employee” because that employee blew the whistle conduct he or she reasonably believed violates the law. For purposes of CEPA, the term “employee” is defined as “any individual who performs services for and under the control and direction of an employer for wages or other remuneration.” That means that CEPA protects all employees who disclose, threaten to disclose, object to, or refuse to participate in unlawful activities or activities that violate public policy. In 2015, the Supreme Court of New Jersey, in Lipmann v. Ethicon Inc., agreed with Lenzo & Reis’ whistleblower lawyers when it concluded that employees who blow the whistle are protected from retaliation even if their whistleblowing occurs during the performance of their regular job duties.What Should You Do If You Believe That You Are Being Retaliated Against for Whistleblowing?
If you believe that you are being or have been retaliated against because you blew the whistle on conduct that you reasonably believed violated the law, you need to ensure that you understand your rights and establish a game plan for dealing with your employer’s unlawful retaliation. New Jersey’s employment retaliation attorneys, Lenzo & Reis, are ready to strategically, skillfully, and successfully guide you through this difficult time. We have successfully helped thousands of New Jersey employees in whistleblowing and unlawful retaliation claims recover millions of dollars. The best thing you can do for yourself, your future, and your family is to contact New Jersey’s unlawful retaliation lawyers at (973) 845-9922 or by e-mail by clicking here.