New Jersey employment law protects employees who object to or report illegal conduct by their employers. New Jersey’s whistleblower protections, particularly the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, have been recognized as the strongest in the nation. The various sources of these protections are discussed below.
New Jersey’s Common Law – the Original Protection
New Jersey’s common law – the body of law derived from prior court decisions – holds that it is a civil wrong for an employer to fire an employee “in violation of a clear mandate of public policy.” What this has been interpreted to mean in the seminal New Jersey Supreme Court case of Pierce v Ortho Pharmaceuticals Corp. is that an employer cannot fire an employee in retaliation for the employee acting in opposition to a practice by the employer which was in violation of public policy, which in practice meant against the law.
New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act – the Whistleblower Law
After Pierce was decided, the New Jersey Legislature to codified the case’s whistleblower protections. It enacted the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, commonly known as “CEPA.” CEPA prohibits employers from firing employees because they object to, disclose or threaten to disclose to a supervisor or public [governmental] body, or refuse to participate in something that they reasonably believe is in violation of a law, rule or regulation, involve shareholder deception, is fraudulent or criminal, or is incompatible with a clear mandate of public policy regarding public health, safety, welfare or protecting the environment. It also prohibits employers from firing employees because they provide information to or testify before any governmental body conducting an investigation or hearing into violations by the employer or another employer with whom it has a relationship. In order to be protected by CEPA, however, an employee generally needs to give written notice to a superior and the opportunity to correct the violation before reporting it to a public body, unless the employee reasonably believes that the practice is already known to one or more supervisors. Likewise, to receive protection under CEPA, the protected activity has to be aimed at protecting more than just the employee herself – if the only one impacted by the employer’s practice is the objecting employee, other laws may be implicated but CEPA does not apply.
In choosing between CEPA and a Pierce claim, there are several considerations, most importantly that Pierce is subject to a two year statute of limitations while CEPA has only a one year limitation period. CEPA requires an employer to pay a successful employee’s legal fees, however, while Pierce does not.
Other Protections: Objections to Discrimination
New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination prohibits discrimination based on a wide range of reasons, including race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, blood type, and many other immutable characteristics. The Law Against Discrimination (commonly known as the “LAD”) also makes it illegal for an employer to take any reprisals against an employee who has opposed any of the employer’s practices which she reasonably believes violate the LAD, or because she has filed a complaint of discrimination or discriminatory harassment, or intends to do so. The protection also extends to testifying or assisting in discrimination cases.
Other Protections: Wage and Hour Objections
Both New Jersey’s Wage and Hour Law and the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act protect employees who have objected or filed complaints that they were not being paid the minimum wage or overtime that their employer was legally required to pay them.
Other Protections: Workers Compensation Retaliation
Although not strictly a “whistleblowing” claim per se, New Jersey’s Workers Compensation Law prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee for filing a workers compensation claim for injuries received on the job.
Contact Our Whistleblower Attorneys
Our employment lawyers represent New Jersey employees who have suffered retaliation for their whistleblowing and other legally protected activities. We have significant experience for fighting for employees’ rights in whistleblower litigation. Call us at (973) 890-0004 or email us to set up a consultation. We can help.