Many employees think that “whistleblowing” in the workplace is widely protected. However, New York’s primary whistleblower statute, Labor Law 740, is very narrow and only protects a very specific set of whistleblowing activities. Although the requirements to prove such claims at trial have not changed nor has scope of the protections changed, New York’s highest court recently clarified the law and made it slightly easier for plaintiff’s to allege a whistleblower claim and to get their foot in the door of the courthouse.
New York’s Labor Law (Section 740) prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who disclose or threaten to disclose a practice of the employer which is in violation of the law and which “creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety or … constitutes health care fraud.” In other words, an employer acting in violation of the law is not enough to trigger workers’ protections. Rather, the employer’s conduct must also create a danger to public health or safety.
In Webb-Weber v. Community Action for Human Servs., Inc., New York’s highest Court, the Court of Appeals, discussed the “violation of the law” prong of the statute. The question presented was whether workers must specifically identify the “law, rule or regulation” that the employer violated at the time the lawsuit is filed with the court. The Court noted that employees are not required to identify the specific violation of law when they make their complaint so it makes sense that plaintiffs should not be required to identify the law when filing their lawsuit in court. The Court noted, however, that employees are still ultimately required at trial to prove that the employer actually violated a law and that the violation caused harm to public health or safety.
In sum, the Court of Appeals did not expand the scope of New York’s very limited whistleblower statute, but it made it slightly easier for wrongfully terminated employees to have their day in court.
If you believe you’ve been retaliated against for whistleblowing, contact the employment lawyers at Famighetti & Weinick for a free consultation.
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