NY has an expanded whistleblower protection law that significantly boosts protections for private-sector employees claiming retaliation and exposes employers to significant added liability.
The law adds former employees and independent contractors who can bring whistleblower claims.
The law removes the requirement of an actual violation of the law. Employees are now protected if they reasonably believe an employer’s activity or conduct is (i) in violation of a law, rule, or regulation, including executive orders and court decisions, rulings, and orders; or (ii) poses a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety.
New Protected Activity
The law required that employees report violations to employers before disclosing violations to a public body, providing a reasonable opportunity to correct the alleged violation. The new law requires employees to make a good faith effort to notify their employer.
Importantly, employer notification is not necessary if (i) there is an imminent and serious danger to public health; (ii) the employee reasonably believes reporting of the violation to the employer would result in the destruction of evidence, concealment, or harm to the employee; or (iii) the employee reasonably believes their supervisor is already aware of the violation and will not correct it.
Prohibited Retaliatory Conduct
The scope of what is prohibited retaliatory actions is expanded to include (i) adverse employment actions against current employees like discharge, suspension, or demotion; (ii) actions or threats that would adversely impact a former employee’s current or future employment; or (iii) contacting or threatening to contact immigration authorities on an employee or their family member.
New Remedies, More time to Sue
The law expands the remedies available to whistleblowers to include front pay, civil penalties up to $10,000, and punitive damages in addition to back pay. The time to sue is extended from one year to two years. Whistleblowers now have a right to a jury trial.
Employers must notify employees of their rights under the whistleblower law by posting a notice in a conspicuous place.