New York State’s whistleblower law has been significantly expanded, with the changes going into effect Jan. 26, 2022.
The updated statute was signed by the governor in late October 2021, strengthening protections for employees who report illegal or dangerous business activities.
It will include a labor law posting requirement, though the notice has yet to be released.
New York State Whistleblower Law
New York State has had a whistleblower law on the books since 1984, with a similar law geared toward health care employees enacted in 2022.
The expanded whistleblower law in New York gives employers several items to consider regarding employment law compliance.
Definition of Employee
First, the law expands the definition of “employee” to include former employees and self-employed independent contractors.
Next, the law now protects employees who report violations if they reasonably believe there is a danger to public health or safety. Previously, employees were protected for reporting actual violations.
Meanwhile, employers are barred from retaliation against workers if they:
- Disclose a suspected unlawful practice
- Report the information to a governmental body
- Object to the practice
Also, employees are no longer required to notify the employer first if there is a perceived immediate danger, the company may cover up the unlawful activity, or the employee reasonably believes the employer is aware of the situation and will not take steps to rectify the matter.
The updated New York State whistleblower law expanded retaliatory actions to include:
- Discharge, suspension or demotion
- Threats that would negatively impact a current or former employee’s future job status
- Contacting, or threating to contact, immigration officials about an employee or their family member
Violations and Statute of Limitation
Under the updated law, the statute of limitations for employees to report violations has increased to two years (from one).
It also expands damages available to an employee: front pay instead of reinstatement, punitive damages for willful violations and the potential for a civil penalty up to $10,000.
Lastly, whistleblowers in New York State now have a right to a jury trial.
Most employers don’t set out to conduct illegal or dangerous business activities. But the COVID-19 pandemic and the new requirements for employers has placed an added spotlight on employee protections, further opening to the door to potential violations.
Still, employers that operate in New York State should review the expanded whistleblower law to ensure compliance.