Conscientious Employee Protection Act
If you encounter wrongdoing at your company, you will want to report it to either the proper authorities or someone else within your company. However, what could be causing you to think twice is the response you might receive from your own company, but the law is on your side.
Even if the wrongdoing you report turns out to be legal, your company is prohibited from engaging in workplace retaliation. New Jersey takes the protection of whistleblowers very seriously, which is why it passed the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) more than 30 years ago.
The law protects those who report any illegal activity they discover at their place of employment. If you believe you are being subjected to retaliation from management for reporting something you witnessed, you should hire an experienced employment lawyer who can help you file a claim against your employer.
What Is the CEPA?
The CEPA protects employees from facing unnecessary consequences from their company should they report any wrongdoing. The law covers all New Jersey employees, which also includes independent contractors.
If an employee finds evidence or witnesses illegal activity at their company, they are obligated to report it to the property authorities. Those individuals who report these actions within their company are called whistleblowers because they are blowing the whistle on any illegal activity at the business. There are certain regulators that even offer incentives for whistleblowers to report the actions that they see.
Although many of these programs arose within the past 10 years, New Jersey’s law has been on the books since 1986. In addition to protecting employees, the law also requires employers to conspicuously display notice about this law and assign a person at the company who you can speak with if you have any concerns with how you have been treated after reporting on something. Prior to 2004, there were some vagaries with what the company’s obligations were in terms of informing employees about the law.
The state amended the law to specify that employers must display information about the law and annually distribute information to employees, and it must be in English or the predominant language spoken at the company.
The law also established that the Commissioner of Labor would make text available to companies in English and Spanish about the law for those who did not know how to describe it to employees.
What Does the CEPA Protect?
It is not always the case that when you see something suspicious at your work that you immediately rush to the authorities. It might be the actions of a few individuals or even activity of which upper management is unaware. The CEPA takes that into consideration as well and does not just protect those employees who reported activity to authorities. It protects other forms of whistleblowing as well:
- Disclosing illegal activities that the company or employees performed.
- Revealing improper quality of patient care by health care professionals.
- Disclosing information about illegal activities.
- Providing information about deception or misrepresentation to shareholders, patients, clients, investors, employees, former employees, or retirees.
- Sharing information about fraudulent or criminal activity.
- Refusing to participate in fraudulent, criminal, or illegal conduct.
- Providing information to or testifying to any governmental body or agency conducting a hearing or investigation about any potential violation.
- Objecting to or refusing to participate in any activity that the person reasonably believes to be in violation of a law, regulation, or rule.
The entity to which you report the wrongdoing does not necessarily have to be one of authority, although the law does cover any federal, New Jersey, or local authority. The CEPA also protects you if you report your findings to anyone else who might have the authority to either correct the problem or act against the company for what it is doing. These can include a supervisor within the company or someone outside it such as a shareholder, investor, client, customer, patient, retiree, pensioner, or former employee.
What Constitutes Retaliation?
Retaliation by a company can take various forms and may not necessarily be obvious. They could be subtle changes to your work status that appear innocent or incidental on the surface. Although being fired for reporting something about your job is an obvious form of retaliation, there are other versions as well for which you will have a claim if you suffer from them. These other examples include:
- Demotion: This can take a variety of forms, from an actual reduction of your role and responsibilities to more subtle such as a different assignment.
- Pay cut: There could be a round of pay cuts that you experience soon after you reported something. This form of retaliation could be difficult to prove if others suffer pay reductions as well.
- Poor performance review: You may start finding that your routine performance reviews are dropping for unexplained reasons. If you were getting positive reviews previously and then you started getting negative ones, it could be a sign of your company trying to get rid of you.
- Harassment: After you report something, there might need to be changes made at the office that your colleagues do not like. Management may even blame you for it, encouraging others to mock and engage in harassment of you.
- Significant changes in employment status or conditions: You may find that your overall work environment has declined since you made your accusation. You could be reassigned to an area of the office that is not as accessible as where you were previously, or you could be given assignments that are inappropriate for your position.
When you begin to suffer any of these experiences, you should report the incident right away. If you are unsure of how to do that, contact an employment lawyer who can advise you of your legal options.
What Remedies Does the CEPA Offer Me?
If you have been the target of retaliation by your company for reporting anything, you can file a claim against it under the CEPA that will allow you to obtain just compensation for any repercussions you faced for your actions.
Among the benefits that you can request in a suit include:
- Economic losses: If you have been terminated from your job, demoted by your employers, or forced to make a job change that resulted in you being unable to obtain your full salary, you can seek to recoup any salary of which you were deprived.
- Past and future lost wages: The incident may have forced you to seek a job elsewhere for less pay. Your claim can also include compensation for those lost wages as well as any potential wages you might have earned for the future.
- Past and future lost benefits: As with lost salary, you can also obtain compensation for any benefits you may have lost because of the reaction of your company.
- Emotional distress: It can be stressful dealing with retaliation from your company. As a result, requesting compensation for any emotional distress can be included in your lawsuit.
- Legal fees: You can also request that the company reimburse you for any legal fees you had to pay because of your lawsuit.
- Punitive damages: There are certain instances when a jury will also choose to impose punitive damages on a company for its actions. Punitive damages are designed to punish a company and motivate it not to take that action again.
Given the circumstances that led to the retaliation in the first place, you can also seek injunctive relief as part of any settlement in a lawsuit. In other words, you can seek that the illegal activity that you first report be stopped. In addition, certain juries or judges will order your reinstatement back to your company if you were terminated.
Are There Other Laws That Protect Employees From Retaliation?
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against their employees for a variety of reasons outside of the person reporting any illegal activity that they witness. There are other laws in New Jersey that protect employees from retaliation along with the CEPA:
- New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD): The law prohibits the discrimination of employees based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex/gender, age, or disability. The law also protects employees from retaliation if they report a violation of this law.
- New Jersey Wage and Hour Act: The act establishes minimum wage and overtime pay requirements and prevents a firm from taking disciplinary action against an employee who reports a violation of this law.
- New Jersey Family Leave Act: Gives employees the chance to leave for family or medical-related reasons and again prevents retaliation by employers if their employees report a violation of this law.
In general, if you believe that you have been the target of a wrongful termination, you can also file a claim against your company for its violation of the state’s public policy.
Marlton Employment Lawyers at Burnham Douglass Can Advocate for You if You Have Been the Target of Retaliation for Whistleblowing
If your company has retaliated against you because you reported illegal actions, you do not have to accept this act. Our Marlton employment lawyers at Burnham Douglass will stand up for you to see that your company will not get away with its illegal actions. Contact us online or call us at 856-751-5505 for a free consultation. We are located in Marlton and Northfield, New Jersey, and we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Marlton, Evesham Township, Cherry Hill, Camden County, Burlington County, Northfield, and Atlantic City.