Congress Amends, Strengthens Whistleblower Protection Law

Our legal system encourages people who have information about wrongdoing by their employers to come forward and report what they know. This may involve violations of employment statutes, fraud or other criminal acts, or other forms of misconduct. Some statutes provide rewards for employees, known as “whistleblowers,” who provide information that leads to successful civil or criminal enforcement actions. Both federal and New Jersey employment laws protect whistleblowers from retaliation by their employers. The Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA), which the U.S. Congress enacted in 2020, includes whistleblower protections. At the end of 2022, Congress enacted the Anti-Money Laundering Whistleblower Improvement Act (AMLWIA). This law protects a wider range of individuals who report alleged unlawful activity. It also increases financial incentives for people to come forward.

In New Jersey, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) bars retaliation by employers against employees who engage in various whistleblowing activities. This might include:
– Reporting, or threatening to report, an activity that the employee reasonably believes is unlawful to a supervisor or regulatory agency;
– Participating in a public investigation or hearing that relates to alleged unlawful activity by the employer; or
– Objecting to or refusing to participate in an activity that the employee believes is illegal, fraudulent, or against public policy.

An employee in New Jersey who believes that their employer has retaliated against them in violation of CEPA has one year to file a lawsuit. Damages may include lost wages and benefits, reinstatement with full benefits and seniority, injunctive relief, and attorney’s fees.

Congress passed AMLA in 2020 as part of a defense bill. The statute addresses many aspects of money laundering, including providing incentives for whistleblowers and protecting them from retaliation when they engage in protected activities like reporting alleged wrongdoing to their employers, the Departments of Justice or the Treasury, another regulatory agency, or a member of Congress. Employers may not “discharge, demote, suspend, threaten, blacklist, harass,” or take other adverse actions against employees who meet AMLA’s definition of a whistleblower.

An employee who believes that their employer has retaliated or discriminated against them in violation of AMLA may file a complaint with the Department of Labor (DOL). If the DOL does not issue a decision within 180 days, the employee may file a lawsuit against the employer in federal district court. The statute of limitations is either:
– Six years from the date of the alleged violation by the employer; or
– Three years from the date that the employee knew or should have known about “facts material to the right of action.”
In either case, an employee may not file a lawsuit more than ten years after the alleged violation.

Congress passed the AMLWIA as Division AA, Title IV of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023. The law amends the section of the federal code that addresses whistleblower protection. It does not amend the specific subsection that deals with retaliation. It does, however, expand the scope of the law’s protections and increase the potential amount of awards paid to whistleblowers whose reports lead to successful enforcement actions.

If you believe your employer has violated your legal rights, an experienced and knowledgeable employment attorney can help you assert a claim for damages. The Resnick Law Group advocates for workers in New Jersey and New York in claims under both federal and state law. Please contact us today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 to schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our team.

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