EDITORIAL: Whistleblowers gain needed protections

State Capitol Building in Albany.
State Capitol Building in Albany.

Doing the right thing is about to get a lot easier and safer for New York’s employees.

As a result, all of New York’s citizens will benefit.

Gov. Kathy Hochul late last month signed a bill that significantly expands legal protections for so-called “whistleblowers,” employees who report their companies for violations of law and matters of public safety.

Under the current law, employees who report unlawful policies and practices have very little protection from retaliation from their employers.

The new law, which takes effect on Jan. 26, changes the standard for which someone can bring a whistleblower complaint and expands the workplace protections for whistleblowers who come forward.

The new law (A5144A/S4394A) amends Section 740 of New York Labor Law by protecting employees who report activity that they “reasonably believe” violates a law, rule or regulation or that they “reasonably believe” poses a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety.

That’s a subtle but significant change in the current law, which now requires that employees only be protected if they report a violation that actually violates the law or poses a public health risk.

The new law also limits how far employers can go in retaliating against whistleblowers.

Current law prevents employees from firing, suspending or demoting employees or other action related to their terms of employment. But employers often use other tactics to punish whistleblowers, such as blackballing them from other employment, making their existing work conditions unbearable and reporting or threatening to report foreign workers or their family members to immigration officials.

The new law specifically prohibits employers from actual or threatened adverse actions related to a whistleblower’s employment status, actions or threats that would impact their current or future employment, and actions or threats about contacting immigration on employees and their families.

Also, under the existing law, you’re only protected from retaliation if you’re an existing employee. The new law expands that protection to former employees and independent contractors.

The law also protects workers by allowing them to make a “good faith” effort to notify their employer before disclosing their information to a public body, extends the statute of limitations from one year to two years to bring civil action against employers and boosts civil penalties.

The law, cosponsored locally by Assembly members Phil Steck and Carrie Woerner, represents a major shift in the landscape for bringing important violations of safety and law to light.

Workers deserve these long-overdue protections. And the public will benefit from them.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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