Wrongful termination can happen for many reasons. Employees may face termination in retaliation for taking actions seen to be against the employer’s interests, including whistleblowing or filing a harassment or discrimination complaint.
Fortunately, New Jersey has laws in place to protect employees against retaliation. Workers who have been fired in retaliation for a protected action can file a wrongful termination suit against their employer.
Protected actions for employees include:
- Whistleblowing, or reporting unsafe or illegal activities
- Filing a harassment or discrimination complaint, either internally, with external organizations, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or a discrimination lawsuit.
- Participating in an investigation in which the company is accused of wrongdoing
- Taking a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) is one of the strongest whistleblower statutes in the country. It provides broad protections for employees who report, threaten to report, object to, or refuse to participate in:
- Violations of law or regulations
- Illegal or criminal activities
- Fraudulent or unethical conduct
- Safety violations that endanger workers or the public
- Improper patient care
- Violations of the New Jersey Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Violations of the Paid Sick Leave Act
- Wage violations
Harassment and Discrimination Complaints
The state of New Jersey has laws in place, such as the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), to protect employees from workplace harassment and discrimination. When harassment or discrimination does take place, it is illegal for employers to retaliate against an employee who files a complaint, whether internally or with a Court.
Additionally, it is not only the employee who files the complaint who is protected from retaliation; any employee who is interviewed or otherwise involved in the investigation or encourages an employee to make a complaint of discrimination is also protected.
Common Retaliatory Actions
Retaliation in the workplace can include a number of actions, up to and including termination.
Other retaliatory actions may include:
- Negative reviews or disciplinary actions
- Reassignment to another role or department
- Salary reduction
- Exclusion from promotions or raises
Retaliatory actions must be considered on a case-by-case basis, but generally if the action could be punishment for filing a complaint, it is considered illegal retaliation.
When pursuing a wrongful termination claim involving retaliation, it is up to the employee to prove that retaliation took place. There are many legitimate reasons an employer might have for firing someone, including declining performance.
To successfully prove retaliation, the employee must establish that:
- They were engaging in activities that are protected under the law
- Their employment was terminated
- Their termination was in response to their protected activities, and not motivated by something else
It is important for an employee to document their activities of their activities and the circumstances surrounding their termination. If the employer claims that poor work performance was the reason for the termination, but the employee can provide complimentary reviews and emails that contradict this claim, they have a much better chance of succeeding.
Proving a retaliation case can be difficult, especially if an employer has “papered” the employee’s file with negative performance evaluations. Having an experienced Atlantic County employment lawyer by your side can help you make sure your case is as strong as possible and maximize your chance for success.
If you have been the victim of unlawful retaliation, you may be entitled to damages. As a result of a lawsuit, you may be awarded monetary damages, which can include back pay such as wages and benefits, out of pocket, and front pay, which includes compensation for wages the employee would have made had they not been subjected to retaliation. Damages can also be awarded for emotional distress, and/or pain and suffering endured as a result of the retaliatory actions. Punitive damages may be awarded in addition to those mentioned above.
Atlantic County Employment Lawyers at Levine Staller Advocate for Victims of Retaliation
The Atlantic County employment lawyers at Levine, Staller, Sklar, Chan & Brown, P.A. have the knowledge and experience to handle all types of wrongful termination cases, including those involving retaliation. We understand the complexities of New Jersey employment law, and we are dedicated to getting you the compensation to which you are entitled. Call us today at 609-348-1300 or contact us online for a free consultation. With offices conveniently located in Atlantic City, we help victims of retaliation throughout Atlantic County, Cape May County, and Ocean County.