What protections exist for whistleblowers in New Jersey?

A whistleblower is someone who formally reports workplace issues they know or fear may be illegal or unsafe. Employees should feel comfortable and safe enough to make proper reports or cooperate with necessary investigations without fear of retaliation by their employer.

Protections for whistleblowers exist at the state level. New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act, or Whistleblower Act, protects employees from employer retaliation in the event an employer does any of the following:

  • Discloses illegal or wrongful behavior in the workplace to a supervisor or public body
  • Provides information to or testifies before a public body investigating illegal or wrongful conduct within the workplace
  • Provides information regarding misrepresentation or deception to certain figures, including investors, shareholders, clients, customers, or employees
  • Provides information on any fraudulent or criminal activity aimed at defrauding specific parties, including investors, shareholders, clients, patients, employees, retirees, or governmental entities
  • Objects to participate in any activity or practice they believe is illegal, fraudulent, or criminal, or jeopardizes the well-being of others

Whistleblower protection laws also exist at the federal level. Five separate agencies under the U.S. Department of Labor enforce whistleblower and anti-retaliation laws, including:

  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
  • Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)
  • Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)
  • Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
  • Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS)

All levels of government, both state and federal, recognize the severity of whistleblower retaliation. They aim to minimize occurrences as much as possible while also making employees feel comfortable enough to come forward should they experience retaliation for doing the right thing.

Are there different kinds of whistleblower retaliation?

Retaliatory behavior can vary greatly, depending on the circumstances. When employers retaliate, their main objective is usually to make work uncomfortable and unbearable to punish employees.

Several types of whistleblower retaliation exist. There’s a high likelihood your employer may be retaliating against you if you’ve experienced any of the following:

  • Demotion
  • Firing or layoff
  • Pay cuts
  • Denying overtime work
  • Passing you over for a promotion
  • Denying benefits
  • Being disciplined for no real reason
  • Harassment
  • Intimidation
  • Threats
  • Reassignment to a less desirable position or office location
  • Reduction of work hours
  • Hostility in the workplace

You may experience one of these behaviors or a mixture of them. If you have recently taken any actions against your employer or have refused to participate in wrongful activities and are now having a challenging time at work, you may be experiencing retaliation.

What do I need to prove that I was retaliated against for whistleblowing?

To have a valid claim for whistleblower retaliation, you must prove certain elements.

You must prove you engaged in a protected activity, in this case, whistleblowing, and your employer knew about it. Additionally, you must show there is a relationship between your whistleblowing activity and your employer’s adverse, retaliatory behavior.

For example, if you filed a complaint against your employer, and the retaliation began two weeks after, there is a strong chance that’s how long it took for your employer to find out and therefore start retaliating.

Evidence can significantly help create the tie between your whistleblowing activity and your employer’s retaliation. Strong evidence can include communications from your employer, such as emails, letters, and voicemails, and detailed accounts from others who witnessed the adverse behavior against you.

What can I recover in a whistleblower retaliation claim?

Both state and federal whistleblower laws provide remedies for employees who suffered damages as a result of retaliation by their employers. The type and amount of damages you’re eligible to receive are dependent on your particular situation but could include any of the following:

  • Back pay
  • Lost wages and benefits
  • Front pay
  • Lost future earnings
  • Reinstatement
  • Emotional distress

Punitive damages may also be available, but only for cases where the defendant’s actions were particularly egregious.

An employment attorney can determine how much your case is worth to fight aggressively for your rights to financial recovery.