Most businesses in New Jersey have a significant degree of autonomy and conduct their daily business operations without much governmental oversight. In New Jersey, both the state and federal governments rely on whistleblowers to uncover employers’ violations of the law and fraud against the government to protect workplace safety, the public’s safety, and to prevent corruption and fraud. Whistleblower laws have been enacted at both the state and federal levels to protect employees who blow the whistle and to incentivize them to report unlawful conduct. The Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) is a New Jersey law that protects most employees who report illegal or corrupt conduct by their employers to the state. The whistleblower attorneys at Swartz Swidler represent people in claims under both state and federal whistleblower laws, including CEPA.
What Is a Whistleblower?
Whistleblowers are people who report previously unknown, non-public information about their employers’ fraud, waste, corruption, abuse, or other violations to relevant government agencies. Typically, whistleblowers work within the organization that is engaged in the misconduct. However, some whistleblowers are people outside of the company who have inside information about what is occurring. The key is that a whistleblower discloses information about the company’s wrongful conduct that would not otherwise be discovered by the government.
Whistleblower laws, including CEPA, protect whistleblowers and incentivize their reports by protecting them from retaliation by their employers and offering rewards of a percentage of the total amount the government can recover based on the information they provide. However, whistleblowers must strictly follow the conditions of the whistleblower laws under which they are seeking protection.
What Is the Conscientious Employee Protection Act?
The Conscientious Employee Protection Act is a comprehensive New Jersey whistleblower law that encourages workers to report illegal or fraudulent conduct that might otherwise continue undetected for years. CEPA protects employees who report non-public information about their employers’ wrongful conduct against retaliation, including being terminated, demoted, passed over for promotions, disciplined, or harassed for reporting or objecting to conduct that they reasonably believed was illegal.
CEPA protects employees with reasonable beliefs that a policy, practice, or activity violates a law or regulation and then discloses or threatens disclosure of the information to the authorities. Employees are also protected under this law from being forced by their employers to engage in conduct that they reasonably believe to be illegal or violative of public policy.
Employers cannot retaliate against employees for reporting what they believe in good faith to be illegal conduct by the employers or for refusing to engage in illegal activities. All types of retaliation are prohibited under CEPA, including terminations, layoffs, demotions, discipline, transferring whistleblowers to undesirable shifts, and denying other opportunities to them.
Who Is Covered by CEPA?
CEPA covers employees for New Jersey employers with 10 or more employees. These employers are required to prominently post written or electronic notices of the protections their employees enjoy under CEPA and to distribute these notices to their employees. The notices must be given in English and any other language that a majority of the employees speak at an individual job site. Designated employees within a company who are tasked with ensuring their employers’ legal compliance with the laws are also protected when they blow the whistle on their employer’s illegal or fraudulent activities.
Activities Protected From Retaliation Under CEPA
Covered employers cannot retaliate against employees for engaging in a broad range of protected activities, including the following:
- Objecting to an activity that the employee reasonably believes is illegal
- Objecting to an activity that the employee reasonably believes is criminal or fraudulent
- Objecting to an activity that the employee reasonably believes violates an environmental, public health, or safety requirement
- Refusing to participate in any of the above activities at the employer’s request
- Disclosing information about an employer’s policing, practice, or activity that the employee reasonably believes is criminal, illegal, or fraudulent to the government or a supervisor
- Threatening to disclose the above-listed information
CEPA also protects employees who participate in investigations by public bodies or provide testimony about their employers’ potential legal violations. Medical care providers are also protected under CEPA from disclosing to supervisors or public agencies activities they believe threaten the quality of patient care at their facilities.
What Remedies Are Available Under CEPA?
There are numerous remedies available under CEPA when an employer retaliates against an employee in violation of this law, including the following:
- Job reinstatement or front pay
- Back pay
- Lost benefits
- Emotional distress damages
- Attorney’s fees
- Court costs
- Injunctive relief
- Punitive damages
Speak to the Attorneys at Swartz Swidler
If you have inside information about your employer’s misconduct or have been retaliated against for disclosing, threatening to disclose it, you may have legal rights. Contact the attorneys at Swartz Swidler for a free and confidential case evaluation by calling us at (856) 685-7420.