Discovering that your employer is engaging in an illegal or unsafe practice can be frightening. You may worry about the repercussions of coming forward. However, you understand that it is your duty as an employee and also as a citizen to speak out when someone is knowingly endangering others or discriminating against them.
Thankfully, most large employers have policies in place that allow for staff to report issues with safety, discrimination or harassment. The policies may require you to file a report, either with human resources or possibly with your manager.
Being a responsible citizen, you follow this process and make the report. In some cases, you may also report what happened to governmental authorities, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. You believe that you were in compliance with company policy and that you did the right thing.
Then, your employer finds a reason to fire you shortly afterward. Now you're without a job and wondering if you have any rights to push back against the company for its wrongful acts.
Whistleblowers have protection under federal law
Whether you are reporting discrimination against employees of a certain background or seriously unsafe working conditions, you fall under the category of whistleblower when you draw attention to illegal activity within the company. Federal law specifically prohibits companies from retaliating against or penalizing employees for acting as whistleblowers.
Unfortunately, if the law didn't stop your company from engaging in unsafe practices or discriminating, it may not stop them from retaliating against you for filing a report. The company may wish to protect its illegal activities or management members accused of misbehavior instead of complying with the law.
Your best option is to document what you reported to management or human resources in writing prior to filing your company report. After that, you should also file any harassment that you experience or threats that you receive as a result of filing that report. The documentation could help you if your employer does terminate your position.
Retaliating against someone for whistleblowing could be wrongful termination
In many cases, whistleblowers who end up terminated as a result of attempting to do the right thing may have grounds to file a wrongful termination lawsuit. This kind of lawsuit can help you recoup financial losses related to the loss of your employment, including the potential damage to your reputation that resulted.
The documentation that you maintained while working for your company can help substantiate your claim of wrongful termination. Even though New Jersey is an at-will employment state, this does not give your employer the right to fire you for an illegal reason.