• New Jersey Whistleblower Act Now Requires Annual Delivery of Notice of Rights to Employees
  • December 7, 2004
  • Law Firm: Pepper Hamilton LLP - Princeton Office
  • Continuing the trend of increased corporate scrutiny following the Enron and WorldCom scandals and the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, New Jersey recently amended its whistleblower act, titled the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), to place additional obligations on employers to inform their New Jersey employees of their rights and obligations under the law.

    The amendment, and the Act's provisions, are worth taking note of, as the New Jersey Law Journal reported on September 20, 2004, that the number of whistleblower suits under CEPA has more than doubled since 2001. Several of these cases resulted in multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements.

    CEPA -- A Brief Summary of the Act

    CEPA forbids New Jersey employers from retaliating against an employee who:

    • discloses or threatens to disclose to a supervisor or public body conduct that the employee believes violates a law, rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to law
    • provides information to or testifies before public bodies regarding such conduct; or
    • objects or refuses to participate in an activity, policy or practice the employee reasonably believes violates a law, rule, regulation or public policy, or is fraudulent or criminal.

    Health care entities should note that the Act specifically prohibits retaliating against employees who "blow the whistle" on the "improper quality of patient care."

    CEPA's Old Notice Requirements

    Before passage of the recent amendment, CEPA merely obligated New Jersey employers to conspicuously display a poster (in English) summarizing employees' protections and obligations under CEPA. The poster was required to include the name of the company representative(s) to whom written whistleblower complaints should be directed.

    The New CEPA Notice Amendment

    The new amendment, effective immediately, requires that the poster be in English and Spanish, and, at the employer's discretion, any other language spoken by the majority of employees.

    In addition, New Jersey employers with 10 or more employees must annually distribute to their New Jersey employees, via written or electronic means, a notice of employees' "protections, obligations, rights and procedures" under the Act. This notice also must be in English and Spanish, and, at the employer's discretion, any other language spoken by the majority of employees.

    What You Should Do to Ensure Compliance with the Amendment

    All employers with New Jersey employees should immediately post the English and Spanish posters at their New Jersey business location(s) in a visible area that is accessible to employees.

    In addition, if your company has 10 or more New Jersey employees, you will need to provide those employees with the annual notice. You should consider distributing the notice via e-mail, or in written form with the normal payroll cycle, on a designated date each year. We suggest that you include acknowledgement forms with the notices, which once completed should be put in employees' personnel files.

    In addition, you should designate an individual to receive all CEPA-related allegations, train them how to handle such allegations, ensure that all CEPA allegations are promptly investigated and take appropriate remedial action when appropriate.