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Whistleblower Protection Under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act

By Thomas McKinney

While it may be understandably uncomfortable for an employee to consider reporting an employer for a potential legal violation, it can be essential in the fight to prevent employers from engaging in illegal activities that can harm employees, the environment, and the general public. That is why New Jersey law specifically provide protection for employees engaging in protected activities, such as objecting to or reporting an employer’s potential violation of a law. This is known as “whistleblower protection” and it is provided under the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA).

Whistleblower Protection Under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act

Under the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) employers are prevented from taking adverse employment action, including firing, suspending, or demoting, against an employee as retaliation for the employee engaging in certain specified and protected activities. Other adverse employment actions include:

  • Being passed up for promotion
  • Harassed
  • Having wages or hours cut back

So, what activities are considered to be “protected activities” for CEPA purposes? Well, CEPA actually prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who have engaged in a wide variety of such activities. A protected activity includes an employee objecting to or refusing to participate in an activity that the employee has a reasonable belief to be:

  • A legal violation
  • Fraudulent
  • Criminal activity
  • Counter to a legal requirement or regulation impacting public health, safety, or welfare

CEPA also offers protections for employees who make disclosures or state an intent to disclose information to either a supervisor or public body concerning an activity, policy, or practice of an employer that the employee has a reasonable belief that runs in contradiction of a law or legal regulation or one that is fraudulent or criminal in nature. These protections also extend to an employer who offers information or testimony to a public body that is engaged in an investigation about an employer’s potential legal violations.

On top of all of this, CEPA provides specific protections for healthcare workers, including:

  • Physicians
  • Nurses
  • Social workers
  • Psychologists
  • Chiropractors
  • Other licensed and certified healthcare professionals

These CEPA provisions protect healthcare workers from retaliation over the worker objecting to, disclosing, or refusing to participate in an activity they reasonably believe to constitute substandard care, or improper quality care to the patient.

If a whistleblower has suffered retaliation by an employer for participating in a protected activity, then there are certain remedies available should a successful retaliation claim be pursued. The worker could be reinstated to their previous job position. Lost wages could be restored as could lost employee benefits. Damages for emotional distress may be available and so could reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and legal costs incurred in pursuit of the retaliation claim. In certain particularly egregious situations, punitive damages may also be awarded.

Employment Law Attorneys

Have you suffered retaliation because you reported on potential illegal activities of your employer? Talk to the dedicated employment law team at Castronovo & McKinney about asserting your rights under New Jersey’s whistleblower protections. Contact us today.

About the Author
Tom McKinney is an experienced NJ Employment Lawyer in all major areas of labor and employment law, including discrimination, harassment, overtime violations, wage and hour claims, sexual harassment, wrongful discharge, Title VII, ADA, ADEA, FMLA, LAD, FLSA, and all other employment law claims. Tom is admitted to practice in the States of New Jersey and New York, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Southern District of New York, District of New Jersey, and United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Prior to forming the firm, Tom practiced at Gibbons P.C. in Newark, NJ. If you have any questions regarding this article, contact Tom here today.