The New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) provides critical protections to employees who want to blow the whistle on illegal employer conduct. The fact is that New Jersey relies on conscientious employees to protect the public interest by tipping off regulators to illegal or questionable behavior. Without them, the state would never find half of the violations that occur at workplaces around the state.
But just what protections does CEPA afford? And how can an employee seek protection when they want to blow the whistle? Below, our New Jersey whistleblower defense lawyer reviews the high points of the law.
CEPA Protects Against Retaliation
One reason employees hesitate to report illegal activity is that they fear they will lose their jobs. This fear is well grounded. Many employers will strike back at whistleblower by firing them or taking other negative employment action.
Fortunately, CEPA offers ample protections. An employee can bring a claim for a full range of damages, including lost wages and benefits, emotional distress, punitive damages, and reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees. An employee can also request being reinstated to their former job or an equivalent position.
According to N.J.S.A. §34:19-5, an employee has one year to bring a lawsuit, so it is vital to meet with an employment lawyer as soon as possible.
CEPA Protects Only Certain Whistleblower Activity
To gain CEPA protection, an employee needs to show that their whistleblowing activity was covered. The law protects against retaliation for the following:
- Disclosing or threatening to disclose to a supervisor or public body any employer action the employee reasonably believes violates the law, rules, or regulations. This includes any certified or licensed health care professional who believes that improper patient care is being provided.
- Providing information to an investigative public body or testifying before the body at an inquiry into a violation of a law, rule, or regulation.
- Providing information concerning deception or misrepresentation to investors, clients, shareholders, customers, employees, or others, including government entities.
- Providing information regarding fraudulent or criminal activity or misrepresentation that the employee reasonably believes might defraud shareholders or others.
- Refusing to participate in any activity the employee reasonably believes is illegal, fraudulent, or incompatible with clear public policy.
As you can see, a key limitation in most situations is that the employee “reasonably believe” an activity is illegal. The employee can be wrong, and the activity might not actually be illegal. But the employee needs some reasonable basis for believing it is.
The law also does not cover all whistleblowing activity. For example, making a Facebook post or tweeting allegations against your employer is not covered.
Limitation on Disclosures to Public Bodies
To obtain CEPA protection when making disclosures to public bodies, the employee must first make a written internal complaint. An exception exists if the employer already knows about the activity or it is an emergency. This limitation allows employers to take remedial action and report the violation itself.
If you want to blow the whistle, contact Sattiraju & Tharney, LLP today. You can schedule a confidential consultation with our New Jersey CEPA lawyers.