Whistleblower Retaliation in New Jersey
Who is Protected. Any employee who risks their livelihood by standing up for what is right in the workplace is a hero in our eyes. But not all such employees are protected under New Jersey law.
The best protection for employees who stand up to their employers’ illegal conduct comes under New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”). But only employees who object to, report, threaten to report or refuse to participate in conduct by their employer that they reasonably believe is fraudulent, illegal, or contrary to a compelling public policy reflected in the law are protected “whistleblowers” under CEPA.
Normally, you only have one year to file a lawsuit under CEPA if you have been retaliated against for being a whistleblower, but whistleblowers that miss CEPA's one-year statute of limitations may still have a claim under the Pierce doctrine.
Employees who blow the whistle on discrimination are doubly protected under both CEPA and the New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”). The LAD protects employees from discrimination based on Race, Ethnicity or Ancestry, Sex/Gender or Gender Identity, Pregnancy, Age, Disability among other categories. However, it also protects employees who stand up for coworkers who are experiencing such discrimination. It prohibits an employer from taking reprisals against an employee who opposes or complains about discrimination or who files a complaint, testifies or assists in any proceeding related to the LAD. Because discrimination under the LAD is illegal, employees that blow the whistle on discrimination may be protected by both CEPA and the LAD. As with Pierce claims, the statute of limitations for LAD claims is two years.
What is the Protection. Discharged employees who sue under Pierce can be awarded compensation for their lost wages, past and present, as well as damages for emotional distress and in rare cases punitive damages. CEPA and the LAD offer more protection. They protect whistleblowers not just from wrongful discharge, but from any retaliation by their employer in the the terms and conditions of their employment. Generally, this means that employers cannot legally fire, suspend, demote or harass an employee for being a whistleblower. Also, employees who sue under CEPA or the LAD may recover attorney’s fees in addition to compensatory and punitive damages.
When to Contact a Lawyer. If you have read this far, chances are that the best time to call a lawyer is right now. If you have already suffered whistleblower retaliation, time is ticking. The sooner you call, the sooner you can work out your options, and best ensure your rights are protected.
We recommend you consult a lawyer who (1) has experience in the complicated field of employment law, (2) is Certified by The Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Civil Trial Lawyer, and (3) offers free consultations and contingent fees. (See Silvia’s blog entry, 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Pay a Lawyer in an Employment Case.)
If you have already suffered whistleblower retaliation and are located in North or Central Jersey (or are willing to travel), Lawrence & Gerges would be happy to offer you a free consultation so we can go over your options with you, and if we think you have a case, we will represent you on a contingent basis, meaning we won’t ask you for money up front.
But the best time to call a lawyer is before you blow the whistle. If you are brave enough to risk standing up to your employer’s illegal activities, we recommend you don’t go it alone. At Lawrence & Gerges we offer no strings attached free consultations to New Jersey employees who are thinking of blowing the whistle. Many employers have Human Resources Departments and lawyers on their side working to protect them from whistleblowing lawsuits. Before you risk your career, give us a call so we can help you make sure you will be protected from retaliation by New Jersey’s whistleblower laws and, if so, that you have the right evidence to support your claim.