Q. What are our obligations to inform employees of their rights against retaliation if they report wrongdoing at work?
A. New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), originally enacted in 1986, makes it unlawful for employers to take adverse action against employees who disclose activities that they reasonably believe are illegal, or who provide information to a public body investigating possible law violations.
It also protects employees from retaliatory firing if they object or refuse to participate in any activity that they believe violates the law, is criminal or fraudulent or is against clear public-policy mandates.
When the law was first enacted, it only required employers to “conspicuously display” a notice in the workplace informing employees of their rights. After passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002 (which gave new federal protections for whistle-blowers), the New Jersey legislature strengthened the notification requirements for state employers in 2004.
Now, New Jersey employers with 10 or more employees must post a summary description of CEPA in the workplace and each year distribute to their New Jersey employees a description of the protections, obligations, rights and procedures under CEPA.
This must be in English, Spanish and, at the employer’s discretion, any other language spoken by a majority of its employees. CEPA permits the employer to communicate the information in print or electronic form and authorizes “other appropriate means” to keep its employees informed. Employers must list in their annual notices and general postings contact information for reporting workplace problems. Employers that fail to post CEPA rules and circulate annual notice can be fined $1,000 for noncompliance and $5,000 for subsequent violations.
The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development provides a convenient notice template at http://lwd.dol.state.nj.us/labor/forms_pdfs/lwdhome/CEPA270.1.pdf.