In New York, private-sector employees who are witness to or become aware of their employer taking part in illegal activities will frequently be conflicted. On one hand, they want to ensure that the laws are adhered to and those who commit wrongdoing are held accountable. On the other, they are worried about how becoming a whistleblower might negatively impact their own situation. For those fearful of speaking out, a new set of protections were recently put in place in the state.
Private-sector whistleblower laws now match public-sector laws
The new laws were signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul with private-sector employees accorded the same protections as their public-sector counterparts. Not only are current employees now shielded from retaliation under this law, but former employees are as well. Retaliation was a common reason why people were reluctant to speak out about wrongdoing or illegal behavior in the workplace. The new law expands its definition to prevent employers from negatively impacting a person’s current and future employment prospects simply because they were a whistleblower. In addition, employers cannot threaten to report an employee about their immigration status.
Workers are also able to function as a whistleblower whether they were within their job duties or not. This means that even if the illegal activities were in no way connected to their position, they can still report it. Before these changes were made, the whistleblower was required to prove that the illegal acts led to substantial or specific dangers. Now, it is simply a reasonable belief that the law was broken. This can be related to any aspect of work from how employees are classified, worker treatment, wages or criminal conduct.
Prospective whistleblowers should understand the law and their rights
Whistleblowers who want to provide information about their employer and workplace should be aware of the law. The severity of the violation, how extensive the protections are and the available steps are key. Fear is a common obstacle for those who want to speak out and these laws are designed to protect whistleblowers, assuaging their concerns. The reluctance can stem from fear of demotion, disfavor on the job, lost promotions, pressure to remain silent or recant, and even outright termination. Laws are meant to protect employees, but they only went so far until recently. To be completely up to date on employment law for employees in the context of being a whistleblower, it is important to have legal advice from the beginning.