Whistleblower Claims and Protections
When an employer skirts the rules, their workforce is often the first to know. Without accountability an employer has no incentive to discontinue their unsafe or illegal practices. Accordingly, Cherry Hill employment lawyers say that whistleblowers play an important role. Employees who speak out about impropriety by their employer enjoy broad protection from retaliation, as well as financial rewards under some state and federal statutes if their allegations are later deemed valid.
State Law Ensures Right to Refuse Dangerous, Illegal Job Orders
New Jersey employees can invoke the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) when an employer directs them to engage in a dangerous activity. Workers always have a right to refuse illegal unsafe job assignments. Moreover, 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.
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.
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.
Qui Tam Actions Provide Additional Motivation for Whistleblowers
The False Claims Act applies when an employer takes steps to defraud the federal government. Such action can include, but is not limited to, committing Medicare and Medicaid fraud or providing false information on an application for grants or subsidies. An employee who has knowledge of such activities can file a qui tam lawsuit, which the government will join following a determination that the petition has merit.
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.