When an employer violates the law or skirts the rules and legal obligations, what is the legal obligation of the employee who becomes aware of such conduct? Is that employee protected from retaliation? Without accountability, an employer has no incentive to discontinue their unsafe or illegal practices. This is where whistleblowers play an important role. Whistleblowers are employees who report unsafe or unlawful practices that occur in the workplace. Employees who speak out about impropriety by their employer enjoy broad protection from retaliation such as termination, demotion, or harassment. Whistleblowers can also receive financial rewards under some state and federal statutes if their allegations are later deemed valid.
Employees put themselves at great risk when acting as a whistleblower. Based in Red Bank, NJ, and Marlton, NJ, and representing clients throughout Burlington County, our employment lawyers provide skilled legal counsel in whistleblowing and retaliation cases. Because our lawyers have experience assisting both employees and employers in a wide range of employment discrimination, hostile workplace environment, and whistleblowing and retaliation cases, we offer unique insight and perspective to our clients.
Burlington County Community
Burlington County falls in the southwestern part of New Jersey and is the largest county by area in the state. Located just East of the Delaware River, Burlington County has about 450,000 residents and stretches across the state. While covering so much area, Burlington County has both rural and more urban communities. Burlington County’s employees may experience unsafe or illegal business activity in the workplace. At McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C. , we want to protect Burlington County’s most vulnerable employees.
What Is Whistleblowing and Retaliation In Burlington County?
Whistleblowers play an important role in the workplace. Whistleblowers are employees who report unsafe or unlawful practices that occur in the workplace. Employers must be held accountable and act in a safe and legal way. If employers are not held accountable for their actions, they may not actively avoid illegal practices. This is where whistleblowers come into play.
Employees can report their employers or supervisors for unsafe and unlawful actions. If an employee reports an unlawful action or practice, the employer cannot then retaliate against the employee. Accordingly, employees have protections against retaliation from their employers. Whistleblowers should feel comfortable reporting illegal practices at work.
What Is An Example of Whistleblowing In Burlington County?
Reporting Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal. Sexual harassment includes any unwanted or unwelcome behavior at work. If an employee experiences or witnesses sexual harassment, the employee can report this activity. Whistleblowers are employees who report these unwelcome advances.
Whistleblowers may also report discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination may occur based on gender, age, pregnancy status, sexual orientation, race, religion, etc. However, discrimination at work in any form is illegal. Employees experiencing or witnessing discrimination at work may report it. Whistleblowers may be protect themselves or their fellow employees from these wrongful behaviors.
Whistleblowers may report corruption they witness in the workplace. For example, corruption may include employers who participate in bribes, fraud, or embezzlement. Employees that report these types of illegal behaviors can be considered whistleblowers.
How Are Whistleblowers Protected In Burlington County?
The New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) protects employees who come forward to report illegal and fraudulent activities their employer commits. CEPA is frequently referred to as New Jersey’s “Whistleblower Act” and prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who report such activity. Under CEPA, it is illegal to retaliate against employees who:
- Informs a supervisor or the public about an illegal activity, policy, or practice.
- Provides information or testifies during an investigation, hearing, or inquiry involving the employer.
- Provides information that the employer deceived or misrepresented a shareholder, client, investor, or patient.
- Provides information about an activity on behalf of the employer that they believe to be illegal.
- Objects to, or refuses to participate in, an activity, policy, or practice that they believe is illegal or against the best interest of public health or safety.
When a suspected violation does not involve a danger to the workforce or public at large, such as failure to pay overtime or the state-mandated minimum wage, CEPA requires that the employee first bring their concerns to the attention of a supervisor. If a supervisor takes no action, the employee may notify the relevant agency. CEPA – which applies to companies with a workforce of 10 or more – ensures that the employee may not be subject to any adverse employment action in connection with the reporting of the violation.
How Are Whistleblowers Protected in Burlington County For Refusing Dangerous Or Illegal Job Orders?
New Jersey employees can invoke CEPA when an employer directs them to engage in a dangerous activity. Workers always have a right to refuse illegal unsafe job assignments. Further, even when what an employee has been asked to do is legal, the employee may still refuse if carrying out the order would jeopardize public safety.
The Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) also has the authority to prevent retaliation against workers who shed light on violations of numerous federal statutes, including the Solid Waste Disposal Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act. The Occupational Safety Health (OSH) Act prohibits employers from punishing whistleblowers, so long as an employee files a complaint within 30 days of the punishment. Additionally, as with CEPA, the OSH Act provides employees with the ability to refuse an unsafe job assignment, as long as they have made their concerns known to a supervisor and the supervisor fails to mitigate the danger.
What Is A Qui Tam Claim Under The False Claim Act And How Is The Whistleblower Protected From Retaliation?
If an individual has evidence of fraudulent activity against the United States government, he or she may decide to come forward as a whistleblower with that evidence and file a qui tam lawsuit under the federal False Claims Act. As with CEPA whistleblower claims, employees who follow qui tam claims are protected against retaliation. Violations under the False Claims Act include, but are not limited to:
- Presenting a claim for payment to the federal government knowing it is false or fraudulent.
- Attempting to get a claim paid by the federal government using a false record or statement.
- Conspiring with other individuals to get the federal government to pay for a false or fraudulent claim.
- Intentionally using false records or statements to avoid satisfying a financial obligation or transmit property to the federal government.
- Overcharging for goods and services provided by government contracts.
- Knowingly selling products that are defective or dangerous.
- Marketing drugs for uses that have not been approved by the FDA.
Although employees incur great risk when acting as a whistleblower, they stand to gain financially from their honesty. An employer faces a civil penalty of $5,000 to $10,000 for each violation of the False Claim Act, while the qui tam plaintiff who initiated the action is entitled to 15 to 30 percent of that penalty – regardless of whether the sum is paid by court order or via settlement. Additionally, a prevailing party in a qui tam case who suffered retaliation in the form of demotion or termination is entitled not only to job reinstatement but also an award of double back pay.
Can Your Employer Retaliate Against You For Filing A Claim Of Employment Discrimination?
No. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) protects employees against employment discrimination based on certain protected classes, including pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment in the workplace, age discrimination, race discrimination, and more. Employees who feel they have been discriminated against in the workplace can file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
As with any other whistleblower claim, it is illegal for your employer to retaliate against an employee who complains about workplace harassment or discrimination, or files a claim with the EEOC.
How Do You Prove Retaliation At Work in Burlington County?
Whistleblower retaliation can take many forms, including:
- Job transfers
If you can demonstrate that your employer took any of these actions as a result of you speaking up or reporting an illegal activity, you may have a retaliation case and should speak to a Burlington County employment lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your options.
Can A Whistleblower Remain Anonymous In Burlington County?
Many employees want to do the right thing by coming forward about an illegal action by their employer, but they have concerns about confidentiality. Many whistleblowers want to know if they can remain anonymous in New Jersey. In most cases, an employee who makes an anonymous complaint will not be protected by CEPA because they did not first bring the matter to their supervisor’s attention. This is why employee protection and anti-retaliation laws are so important, and why it is critical to contact an experienced Burlington County whistleblowing and retaliation lawyer to discuss your options before moving forward.
If you have reason to believe your employer has violated the law, or you have been the victim of retaliation for speaking up, McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C. can help you understand your rights and options.