New York State Whistleblower Law
You should not have to work in an unhealthy environment. You let your employer know that there a situation at work which is a danger to health. You will be protected as a whistleblower under New York State’s Whistleblower Law, contained in Sections 740 and 741 of the Labor Law.
Before you blow the whistle, however, you have to be aware of a few things. First, the policy or practice which you feel compelled to expose must be a violation of a law, or governmental rule or regulation. You should do your research before complaining so that you can identify the law, rule or regulation that the employer is violating, and you should refer to it when you complain to your employer. A good faith belief that a violation has occurred is not good enough. It has to be an actual violation. Second, you are only protected if the violation constitutes a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety. Some examples: improper actions in an isolated event might not be sufficient, whereas several events might be; failure to establish smoke free environment would qualify; absence of fire signs would qualify. Courts have been troubled by what is meant by a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. Is it possible that one incident is indicative of a broader problem? It is thus best to give serious thought if an improper practice is an isolated event or part of a more general practice, and to try to substantiate that the improper practice that occurs with some frequency.
If you are a health care worker, the standards are somewhat relaxed. You only need to identify one patient who has been subjected to a significant health threat (which violates a specific law, or governmental rule or regulation). And you just need a good faith, reasonable belief that the improper conduct constitutes improper quality of care.
If you are disturbed about a qualifying health or safety condition, you should point that out to your employer, specifying the law, rule or regulation that has been violated. It is best that you do this writing, so there is no dispute as whether you made the complaint or the exact content of your complaint. Sometimes, the employer will correct the condition. If they don’t, you can then report the condition to the appropriate governmental authorities.
If the employer does not correct the condition, there is a pretty good chance that it will retaliate against you in some way. If this happens, you should continue to do your job, and not strike back in kind. It will be hard to emotionally if you can tell that the employer is coming after you, but maintain your balance.
The way to protect yourself is to assert a claim under the Whistleblower Law. If you are fired, you can be reinstated with back pay and benefits, and the employer will have pay your attorney’s fees if you prevail on your claims. However, unlike other discrimination statutes, the Legislature did not see fit to include emotional damages or punitive damages as a remedy.
Contact us online or call us at (212) 949-1001 so that we can review if your New York City employer has subjected you to retaliation when you complain about employer conduct which is violation of the whistleblower law in New York State or New York City.