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How do whistleblower laws protect New Jersey employees?

September 20, 2015

Whistleblower laws on both the state and federal levels were enacted to encourage employees to report any activities they see in the workplace that are illegal, fraudulent, discriminatory and/or unsafe without fear of losing their jobs or suffering other types of retaliation. Further, employees who are penalized by their employers for reporting (or threatening to report) these activities to the appropriate authorities can sue their employer. They are also protected if they refuse to participate in these activities.

New Jersey’s whistleblower statute applies to those who work in both the public and private sectors. Its full name is the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act. Under the law, employers may not “discharge, suspend, demote, or take other retaliatory action” if an employee discloses, threatens to disclose or refuses to participate in any activity that’s illegal, fraudulent or is incompatible with “public health, safety, welfare, or protection of the environment.”

Retaliatory action can include what is called “retaliatory harassment.” This can involve intimidating, hostile and/or abusive behavior toward someone who is considered a whistleblower.

Under New Jersey law, an employee who believes that he or she is the victim of retaliation is generally required to first notify a supervisor and to give the organization a “reasonable opportunity” to correct the situation. There are, however, exceptions to that mandate:

— If the supervisor is aware of the activity

— If the activity presents an emergency situation.

— If the whistleblower has reasonable fear of physical harm if he/she reports the activity to a supervisor

If a whistleblower does take civil action against an employer for retaliatory actions, that employer can be subject to fines of $1,000 and then $5,000 for each subsequent violation. Further, if an employee was dismissed, the employer must offer reinstatement with full benefits, seniority and back pay. The employer will be ordered to pay legal costs and possibly punitive damages to the whistleblower.

If you are aware of wrongful or dangerous activity occurring in your workplace or by your employer, it may be wise to seek the advice of a New Jersey attorney who has experience with whistleblower cases. He or she can help advise you of the proper action to take to report it and help use the law to protect you from suffering retaliation for doing the right thing.

Source: FindLaw, “New Jersey Whistleblower Laws,” accessed Sep. 20, 2015

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