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NJ’s Whistleblowing Act Protects You When Reporting an Employer’s Illegal Activities



New Jersey has one of the strongest “whistleblowing” laws in the country. The Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) was passed in 1986 and protects New Jersey’s workers from retaliation when they complain, or threaten to complain, about an employer’s illegal activities. CEPA, also called the “Whistleblowing Act,” makes it unlawful for an employer—public or private—to retaliate against an employee for:

  • Disclosing or threatening to disclose an employer’s violation of a law or state agency rule or regulation.
  • Disclosing or threatening to disclose an employer’s criminal or fraudulent activity.
  • Disclosing or threatening to disclose improper quality of patient care by a healthcare professional.
  • Providing information to a public body investigating a possible violation of the law by the employer.
  • Objecting to a policy or practice of the employer that the employee reasonably believes violates a law or regulation, is fraudulent or criminal, or violates a public policy.

Courts have often interpreted the law in a way that favors broad protections for workers. For example, under CEPA, it is unlawful for an employer to suspend, demote, or terminate an employee who reports an employer’s illegal activities. The law recognizes that employees are not necessarily legal experts and, therefore, employees are not required to identify the specific law(s) they believe the employer violated. In fact, even when an employee’s belief that the employer violated the law turns out to be wrong, as long as the belief was reasonable, the employee is still protected from retaliation by the employer.

CEPA’s definition of “employee” is broader than the definition under other laws. Workers who could be considered independent contractors in other contexts have been recognized as employees under this law. Courts have even permitted employees of New Jersey-based employers who work outside of the state to file CEPA lawsuits against their employers in New Jersey. In these ways, CEPA’s protections are extensive. The law seeks to punish employers who retaliate against workers trying to do the right thing by reporting illegal activity.

What should I do if an employer retaliates against me?

If you have been retaliated against for complaining, or threatening to complain, about an employer’s illegal activities, you have one year to file a CEPA lawsuit in court. An employee who brings a case against his employer under this law must be able to show a connection between his complaints (or threatened complaints) about the illegal activity and the retaliatory action taken against him by the employer. This can be complicated. A worker with a strong work record who is terminated right after making a complaint about fraudulent financial practices at work will have an easier time making that connection than a worker who makes a complaint and is fired months later for repeated, unauthorized absences from work. A worker who wins a CEPA case may get back pay, front pay, economic losses (like the loss of housing due to the loss of income), interest, punitive damages (damages to punish the employer for violating the law), attorney’s fees, or any combination of these damages.

Although CEPA is a strong law intended to offer broad protection to workers who complain about illegal actions by their employers, it is not the only law that protects workers from retaliation. Other state laws protect workers from retaliation in other situations, like when they report child abuse, abuse of vulnerable adults, discrimination, or health and safety problems. In addition, workers who are retaliated against for discussing bad workplace conditions with coworkers may be protected by the National Labor Relations Act, even if they are not protected by CEPA. The National Labor Relations Act is often thought to protect only unionized workers, but certain provisions of the law apply to both unionized and nonunionized workers. These laws are explained in more detail in the article Your Rights When Your Employer Retaliates Against You​. The statutes of limitation for filing cases are shorter under those laws than CEPA, so it is important to consult with an employment attorney about potential legal action as soon as possible.