Retaliation Against Whistleblowers (When doing good costs you your job)

It is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against you If you complain about or object to illegal conduct of your employer. The principal New Jersey anti-whistle blowing law is the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, commonly called “CEPA.”  CEPA prohibits an employer from taking an adverse action against an employee who discloses, objects to, or refuses to participate in the employer’s illegal actions.

CEPA is a rather technical law, and not everything you might think of as whistle blowing will meet the legal definition.  This is one area where the employee, rather than the employer, starts the ball rolling, so the wise employee will seek legal advice before making a whistle blower complaint, on the assumption that the law will protect her. Without the necessary knowledge she runs the risk that CEPA might not apply and thus find herself left open to adverse but lawful employment action from the employer.

Retaliation can be overt and obvious, like demotion or termination.  It can also be nuanced, such as being “written up” for false or subjective reasons so as to pave the way for demotion or future termination.  It is common for whistleblower retaliation to have little relation to performance, and much to do with their complaints.

Common subjects of whistleblowing include fraud, theft, violations of tax laws, violations of employment laws like the federal Fair Labor Standards Act [FLSA], and many others.

Remedies available, if you can prove a case of whistleblower retaliation, include lost back and front pay, other damages including for emotional distress, and litigation costs including attorney’s fees.

Check here for the New Jersey Attorney General’s web page on CEPA.  Click on the link for CEPA Awareness Flyer/Poster for the basics of the law. (https://www.nj.gov/oag/cepa/)

Finally, CEPA is not the only word on protection of whistle blowers. There are other laws, state and federal, that also offer protections. Check with an attorney and get educated if you find yourself confronted with unlawful employer conduct.