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Monday, November 28, 2022

NJ Whistleblower Attorney, My Co-worker Is Breaking the Law

Typically, persons think of employee whistleblower claims in terms of their employer or supervisor violating a law. Sometimes, however, an employee may reasonably believe that a co-worker is breaking the law.

The NJ Supreme Court held that minor infractions that violate company policies are not "unlawful conduct” as contemplated by New Jersey’s employee whistleblower statute, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act , N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 et seq., CEPA. Estate of Roach v. TRW, Inc., 164 N.J. 598, (2000).

NJ courts have held that in order to succeed on a CEPA claim based on alleged illegal acts of another co-worker on the job, a plaintiff had to reasonably believe that the complained-of activity by the co-worker was illegal and/or was fraudulent. A Plaintiff's CEPA claim may fail because the employee did not actually complain that the co-worker engaged in illegal or fraudulent conduct of any kind.

The NJ Supreme Court, in Estate of Roach v. TRW, Inc., 164 N.J. 598, (2000) discussed a claim based on alleged acts of a co-employee. The Court stated that under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J.S.A. §§ 34:19-1 to 34:19-14, a claim based on fraud, N.J.S.A. §34:19-3(a)(2), (c)(2), can rest on allegations about the activities of a co-employee. However, the court’s focus is on whether the employee making the complaint reasonably believed that the activity was occurring and that it amounted to fraud or illegal activity.

Courts have held that the issue is not whether in fact other employees were engaged in the activity complained of or whether the activity met the legal definition of fraud or violating government regulations or statutes. Instead, the question is whether the complaining employee had a reasonable belief that the activity of another employee was illegal and complained about it for that reason.

The NJ Supreme Court in Battaglia v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 214 N.J. 518 (2013) stated that CEPA does not protect employees whose complaints are directed to minor or trivial matters or certain violations of company policy. Courts have described examples of trivial complaints are if an employee were to complain about a co-employee who takes an extended lunch break or makes a personal telephone call to a spouse or friend, the court would be hard pressed to conclude that the complaining employee could have "reasonably believed" that such minor infractions represented unlawful conduct as contemplated by CEPA.

Courts will look to whether there is sufficiency of the complaining employee’s factual evidence as to whether the acts complained of, could support a finding that the employee's belief that the co-worker was engaged in illegal acts, was a reasonable belief that the co-worker was engaged in illegal act

The NJ Supreme Court in Battaglia cautioned, the court must be alert to the sufficiency of the factual evidence and to whether the acts complained of could support the finding that the complaining employee's belief was a reasonable one. That is, the statute does not protect employees whose complaints are  focused on minor or trivial matters.

Battaglia stated: As we have explained:

“If an employee were to complain about a co-employee who takes an extended lunch break or makes a personal telephone call to a spouse or friend, we would be hard pressed to conclude that the complaining employee could have "reasonably believed" that such minor infractions represented unlawful conduct as contemplated by CEPA. CEPA is intended to protect those employees whose disclosures fall sensibly within the statute; it is not intended to spawn litigation concerning the most trivial or benign employee complaints........to the extent that plaintiff simply complained about other employees who were drinking at lunch or taking long lunch breaks, it would not rise to the level of activity protected under CEPA. See Roach, supra, 164 N.J. at 613-14, (commenting that complaints about extended lunch breaks are not protected). Similarly, as in Roach, we do not suggest that, even if proven, a complaint about a minor violation of a company's internal policy on the use of company credit cards would be cognizable. Id. at 613, 754 A.2d 544 (noting that "minor infractions" that violate company policies are not "unlawful conduct as contemplated by CEPA").  Battaglia at 557-558.

If you quit your job, you may lose right to prevail in a lawsuit.

In many instances of discrimination, if you quit your job, you may lose right to prevail in a lawsuit unless you first take certain legally required measures to preserve your job while you are still employed. If you are thinking of quitting, or think you will be fired, you should contact this office immediately to discuss your options in the safest way for you.

What You Can Do

I am an aggressive and compassionate employment law attorney who is experienced in successfully representing persons who were whistleblower employees and was successful in recovering multiple six figure settlement moneys for them. If you are thinking of resigning, or think you will be fired, or have been fired, it is important that you consult with an attorney who is experienced in whistleblower law.

If You Complained about What You Reasonably Believed to Be Your Employer’s Illegal Practices and Your Employer Retaliated

Do not sit on your rights, or you may lose the right to file your claim. If you think you have been retaliated against for complaining about or reporting to your employer what you believe are your employer’s illegal practices, it is essential for you to contact an experienced, competent and successful whistleblower attorney who will be aggressive about enforcing your rights as soon as possible.

If you have been demoted, had your hours cut, terminated, harassed or been subjected to retaliation for complaining about, objecting to, refusing to participate in, or reporting what you believe is your employer’s illegal or improper conduct, you should contact this law firm as soon as possible. I am an experienced and compassionate employment attorney who will be aggressive about enforcing your rights.

If you are being subjected to such unlawful workplace retaliation, contact Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law today for a free consultation. I accept whistleblower and discrimination cases from all over New Jersey.

Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law represents workers throughout the entire state, including Hackensack, Jersey City, Newark, Irvington, Orange, East Orange, Trenton, Paterson, Montclair, Elizabeth, North Brunswick, Cherry Hill, Vineland, Union, Plainfield, Hamilton Township, Lakewood, Edison, Parsippany-Troy Hills, Franklin, Lakewood, and every NJ County, including Bergen, Hudson, Middlesex, Essex, Monmouth, Somerset, Ocean, Union, Camden, Passaic, Morris, Gloucester, Atlantic, Burlington, Camden Counties.


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