Q. What is the Conscientious Employee Protection Act?
A. The Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) is New Jersey’s whistleblower law. It is one of the broadest anti-retaliation laws in the country. It provides broad protection to employees who report illegal and unethical workplace activities. Its primary purposes are to encourage employees to report illegal and unethical workplace activities, and to discourage employers from engaging in illegal and unethical conduct.
Q. Who is protected by CEPA?
A. Virtually all employees working in New Jersey are protected by CEPA. In fact, many individuals who consider themselves independent contractors are covered by it.
Q. What employers are covered by CEPA?
A. Virtually all New Jersey employers, including private companies and public employers, are subject to CEPA.
Q. What type of whistleblower activity is protected under CEPA?
A. Under CEPA, an employee is protected from retaliation for engaging in a broad range of activity, including:
- Disclosing (or threatening to disclose) to a supervisor or a public body an employer’s act, policy or practice that the employee reasonably believes is illegal, fraudulent or criminal;
- Providing information to, or testifying before, a public body investigating an employer’s act, policy or practice that the employee reasonably believes is illegal, fraudulent or criminal; and
- Objecting to or refusing to participate in an activity, policy or practice the employee reasonably believes is illegal, fraudulent or criminal, or is incompatible with a clear mandate of public policy concerning public health, safety or welfare or protection of the environment.
Q. Does an employee have to be correct to be protected by CEPA?
A. No. An employee only needs to have an objectively reasonable belief that the employer’s activity fits into one of the categories listed above. For example, if an employee objects because she reasonably believes his employer is committing tax fraud, CEPA protects the employee retaliation even if the company actually was complying with the law.
Q. What type of damages can I recover if I prevail in a CEPA case?
A. If you win a CEPA case, you can recover your economic losses, including past and future lost wages and benefits. You can also recover damages for your emotional distress, attorney’s fees, and the other costs of the litigation. In some cases, you can also receive punitive damages.
Q. Does New York have a law similar to CEPA?
A. Not exactly. Although New York has a whistleblower law, it is not even close to as broad as CEPA, and the courts have interpreted it very narrowly. However, numerous state and federal laws give New York employees protection from retaliation, including the New York Human Rights Law, the New York City Human Rights Law, the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX).
Q. What do I do if I’ve been the victim of retaliation?
A. Whistleblower and other anti-retaliation laws can be very complicated. If you believe you have been fired, demoted, skipped for a promotion, harassed<, or otherwise mistreated because you blew the whistle on your employer, it is highly recommended that you contact an experienced employment lawyer in your area.