The New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (or NJ CEPA) is a law that protects an employee from retaliation by his or her employer when the employee “discloses, objects to, or refuses to participate in certain actions that the employee reasonably believes are either illegal or in violation of public policy.”
CEPA allows for the recovery of damages (both compensatory and punitive), as well as reimbursement for attorney fees. In addition, the injured party may also sue for reinstatement and back pay. A NJ CEPA lawyer can help you recoup those funds.
The CEPA owes much to similar so-named “whistleblower” protections enacted in other legislation at the federal level, such as the False Claims Act (FCA). Like the FCA, the intention of the CEPA is to remove fear of retaliation as a factor in the reporting of objectionable or even illegal activity conducted by agents of the federal government or its authorized representatives or partners. NJ CEPA also extends these protections to the employees of state government and private companies.
Before reporting the questionable activity, a would-be whistleblower must submit his or her concerns in writing to a supervisor and give the company a reasonable opportunity to correct the situation. There are two exceptions to this:
First, if the employee is concerned that the reporting of the issue to a supervisor represents a physical threat to his person. Or, the reporter believes the supervisor is already aware of the activity.
The New Jersey Supreme Court has described CEPA as the most far-reaching whistleblower law in the United States.
The NJ CEPA is also expansive in scope as to whom its whistleblower protections are extended. The FCA isn’t totally clear as to where independent contractors fit into the disclosure process.
There is precedent, as the Supreme Court has sided with independent contractor whistleblowers in previous cases, most notably in Lawson v. FMR LLC where they ruled that protections granted through Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank should also apply to both independent and sub-contractors. Whereas the FCA needed appellate context to grant these rights, NJ CEPA clearly stipulates that whistleblower protections are automatically granted to both independent and sub-contractors.
Keep in mind that these protections extend to employees whether the violation they report turns out to be true or not. An employee is still protected from retaliatory behavior if their suspicions are reasonable.
If you feel your rights as a whistleblower have been violated and your employer has taken retaliatory action against you for reporting questionable activity, a NJ CEPA lawyer will Bochetto & Lentz, PC can help you protect your rights. Call us today for a consultation.