Whistleblowers are supposed to be protected from retaliation. Any employee who finds out that their employer is involved in perpetrating fraud can, and should, report the employer to the authorities. First, because it’s the right thing to do. Second, because they may be entitled to monetary compensation if the whistleblower case is successful.
However, just because whistleblowers are protected from retaliation and are permitted to bring an action if their employer does try to retaliate, doesn’t mean that, in fact, employers don’t try to retaliate.
Case in point: Recently, an NJ Appellate Court said an employee who copied some documents to use in her whistleblower case could be prosecuted for stealing. This case involved alleged employment discrimination. The employee said she took the confidential documents owned by her employer to support her case. The Appellate Court ruled that taking the employee could be charged with theft for stealing the documents.
“This case is clearly retaliatory in nature. An employee who believes that his or her employer is violating the law, regulations or public safety has in fact little choice but to defend themselves by having the evidence of that misconduct or the retaliatory action that results from the employee complaining about such misconduct, reviewed by an attorney,” said Ross Begelman of Begelman & Orlow, a successful qui tam legal practice in Cherry Hill, NJ. The firm represents whistleblowers throughout the U.S.
“I am not talking about protecting employees who take documents of an employer without a good faith belief that the employer is acting illegally. In fact that is the standard of care required to place that employee in a protected class under the CEPA law and under the provisions of the False Claims Act that protect employees from retaliation.”
However, the issue at hand is how would an employee know if their employer is truly acting illegally? “They are not lawyers. The right to consult an attorney to determine whether your beliefs are well founded is fundamental not only to our system of justice, but to both the legislative intent of the False Claims Act and the New Jersey CEPA law,” Begelman said.
In the case discussed here, going after the employee for “stealing” the documents amounts to true retaliation, the lawyer added. Scaring people into thinking they don’t have a right to protect themselves is the exact purpose behind anti-retaliation laws.
“These efforts at retaliation in the form of law suits or even criminal prosecution are a direct threat to our system of justice,” said Begelman.
If you suspect fraudulent activity on behalf of your employer, or you feel you are being retaliated against because you have “blown the whistle,” contact the experienced lawyers at Begelman & Orlow, P. C.. We will investigate your claims and protect your rights. Call us today for a free consultation.