Has your employer fired you or otherwise retaliated against you because you saw something illegal at work and said something about it? If so, you may need experienced New Jersey whistleblower attorneys to help you fight for your rights.
New Jersey has one of the strongest whistleblower protection laws in the country. Passed in 1986, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”) protects employees from retaliation (“adverse actions”) who, in good faith, disclose the unlawful or unethical activities of their co-employees/employer.
Specifically, CEPA shields employees who disclose, take part in an investigation of, testify about, or refuse to take part in the unlawful activities of their employer from retaliation.
Which Employees Are Protected?
CEPA protects both private sector and government employees. Employees are covered whether they are at-will or under a collective bargaining agreement. Indeed, CEPA even covers some independent contractors.
CEPA is viewed broadly. Consequently, the employee who discloses what she believes to be unlawful conduct of her employer does not even have to be right; she must only “reasonably believe” that her employer is acting unlawfully or unethically.
The employee must have been employed by the employer when the retaliation took place.
An employee who wants to sue an employer under CEPA must do so within one year of the unlawful actions of the employer.
What Types of Unlawful Employer Conduct Do Employees Disclose?
There are many types of unlawful conduct by employers that employees may disclose, triggering adverse actions by their employer. Generally, the employer’s actions must be unlawful, criminal, fraudulent, or against public policy. They must be more than harmful to the whistleblower; the actions of the employer must represent potential harm to the public at large. Some of these unlawful actions include:
- Tax evasion;
- Pension fraud;
- OSHA violations;
- Failure to pay overtime or sales commissions;
- Discrimination against coworkers;
- Violations of regulations or statutes;
- Violations of industry rules and standards.
There are many more.
What Types of Retaliation are Prohibited by CEPA?
Of course, CEPA bars employers from improperly firing whistleblowers. But there are other forms of adverse actions taken by employers that could cause a CEPA violation:
- Denial of a promotion or raise;
- Demotion to a lower-level position;
- Cut in pay;
- Undesirable assignments;
- Repeated warnings of supposed poor job performance;
- Relocation to a less desirable work location;
- Reducing work hours.
Some of these actions, when viewed individually, may not support a CEPA violation claim. However, as said earlier, courts will liberally construe the CEPA. While individual acts of retaliation may not rise to the level of a CEPA violation, patterns of retaliatory conduct by an employer could support a CEPA claim against the employer.
What Damages Can an Employee Collect in a CEPA Case?
Employees who claim damages under CEPA can seek various types of damages. If the employee was fired, he can demand both lost wages and lost future earnings.
Employees can also seek damages for emotional stress. In egregious cases, plaintiffs can seek punitive damages against the employer.
Additionally, CEPA permits whistleblower plaintiffs to recover their reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, if a jury finds in their favor at the time of trial.
New Jersey Common Law Whistleblower Claims
New Jersey also recognizes the right of employees who suffered retaliation to sue under common law. Pierce v. Ortho Pharmaceutical (417 A.2d 505, 84 N.J. 58 (1980)) is a noted New Jersey Supreme Court case on this topic. The Court held in Pierce that employees (even at-will employees) have a claim against their former employer if their discharge by the employer violates public policy.
Additional Whistleblower Actions
CEPA is the primary law in New Jersey protecting employees from illegal retaliatory actions of employers. However, other laws in New Jersey protect employees who complain that they are not being paid the proper wages or who file worker’s compensation claims.
In addition, New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination protects employees who report or testify about discriminatory practices by their employer.
Lastly, government agencies cannot take adverse actions against employees who report civil service rule violations.
New Jersey Workplace Retaliation Attorneys
New Jersey has laws in place to protect employees from illegal workplace retaliation by employers. The New Jersey whistleblower lawyers at Schiller, Pittenger & Galvin, P.C., have years of experience representing public employees and private industry employees in whistleblower and other employment law matters.
In fact, New Jersey whistleblower attorneys at the firm have successfully represented police officers, firefighters and school administrators in CEPA cases. We are intimately familiar with police and fire department rules. Additionally, we are familiar with school board policies and procedures.
If you spoke up at work because you saw illegal or unethical conduct, and your employer punished you for it, you may have a CEPA claim. Call the experienced New Jersey whistleblower attorneys at Schiller, Pittenger & Galvin, P.C., in our Scotch Plains office at 908-490-0444 or contact us here to schedule an initial consultation.