Expanded NYS Whistleblower Law Offers Substantially More Protection for Employees
New York state is an employment-at-will state which leaves many employees to feel unprotected and less likely to speak up with workplace concerns. That is about to change.
Employees in New York have long known that if they were to speak up against wrongful practices in their workplace, they could simply be let go for whatever reason their employer decided to state (when clearly the job loss was retaliation based) and there would be very little the employee could do.
However, in recent years, New York has started to roll out more legal protections for those who work in the private sector and has gotten much better at protecting whistleblowers.
A whistleblower is someone who speaks up when they believe that their employer has violated a law, a rule, or a regulation. In other words, if an employer is engaging in any illicit behavior, an employee who raises attention to the problem would be called a whistleblower.
Until recently, New York's whistleblower law offered very minimal rights to the whistleblower, only prohibiting an employer from retaliating against an employee for speaking up about problem behaviors and actions if those actions created a “substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety.”
On Wednesday, January 26, 2022, New York's whistleblower law will be changing to offer more protection to whistleblowers. The expansion to the law will now put a stop to private-sector employers from retaliating against employees, any former employee, and also to independent contractors who disclose or threaten that they will disclose any conduct within the workplace that they believe "violates any law, rule or regulation, executive order, or any judicial or administrative decision, ruling, or order."
The expansion of New York's whistleblower law means that an employee now only needs to reasonably believe that conduct inside their organization violates the law or poses a health risk. The employee does not need to be correct in that belief to be heard. Additionally, the employee no longer needs solid proof that the actions taking place in their workplace are unlawful or dangerous, they only need to have a reasonable belief that it is.
According to the amended law, retaliation against a whistleblower now completely prohibits an employer from issuing a termination, discharge, suspension, or demotion. The law also very clearly states that an employer may not engage in behavior such as “threatening to contact or contacting' authorities at any level about an employee's "suspected citizenship or immigration status or the suspected citizenship or immigration status."
Any whistleblower who feels that their rights under the newly expanded law are now able to bring a civil action lawsuit against their employer. The extended law now allows both parties to face a jury trial if necessary.
Prior to its expansion, New York's whistleblower law only held a one-year statute of limitations. Now, the statute of limitations has been increased to two years.