Understanding Whistleblower Protections in New York

State and federal legal protections shield whistleblowers from retaliation at the hands of their employers. Whistleblower rights are the foundation of employment law, as they empower employees to report unlawful or unethical behavior or practices they discover in the workplace. If you have learned that your employer is engaging in illegal business practices, you have the right to report this violation without fear of retaliation. Contact a skilled and experienced New York whistleblower lawyer right away to discuss your options for reporting unlawful activity and preserving your legal rights at every turn.

Whistleblower Protections at the Federal Level

Passed in 1989 and amended in 1994 and 2012, the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) “prohibits retaliation against most executive branch employees when they blow the whistle on significant agency wrongdoing or when they engage in protected conduct.” In other words, federal employees who report evidence of abuse, fraud, or threats to public health and safety are protected by the WPA, which shields them from retaliation. Several other legal protections at the federal level, including the Consumer Protection Act, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform, and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, protect employees who report financial or corporate wrongdoing or fraud. If you want to learn more about how these federal laws may apply to your situation, contact a trusted employment law attorney today.

New York Whistleblower Protections

In addition to federal protections, it’s important for employees to recognize that they are covered under whistleblower rights in New York. Under Labor Law Section 740, “An employer shall not take any retaliatory action against an employee, whether or not within the scope of the employee’s job duties, because such employee does any of the following,” which includes disclosing an unlawful practice that poses a substantial and specific danger to the public, refusing to participate in an unlawful activity, or testifying before a public body that is investigating the employer’s unlawful conduct. Ultimately, these protections aim to preserve transparent and ethical conduct in the workplace. When employees feel safe reporting illegal or unethical practices, the hope is that they can hold companies acting in bad faith accountable for these unlawful practices.

Confidentiality Agreements in New York

Many companies require their employees to sign a confidentiality agreement in order to protect sensitive business information. A confidentiality agreement is “a contract between two or more parties regulating the treatment of specified private information.” Essentially, these contracts serve as a way for businesses to safeguard knowledge of proprietary information such as trade secrets or business strategies. Also known as non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), confidentiality agreements require employees to agree to protect and keep confidential key information pertaining to the operation of the company. If an employee violates the terms of the confidentiality agreement, they may be held liable for civil penalties or even criminal charges. Although most businesses use confidentiality agreements in good faith, there are times in which the terms of the nondisclosure agreement may conflict with the rights of a whistleblower who may want to report unethical or unlawful business practices engaged in by their employer. The tension between confidentiality agreements and whistleblower rights in New York can cross into murky legal territory, so it’s essential to enlist the guidance of an experienced and dedicated New York employment lawyer who will assess the details of your situation and help you determine the most strategic path forward.

When an employer is negotiating the final stage of hiring a prospective employee, the company may require its new employee to read and sign a confidentiality agreement. When an employee signs a nondisclosure agreement, they are legally bound to keep sensitive information confidential and private. For example, a baked goods company may require its employees to keep proprietary recipes confidential to prevent competing baking companies from copying and profiting off an original recipe. Many corporations that work with high-profile clients typically require their employees to sign NDAs that prohibit employees from discussing the private lives or sensitive information of the publicly-facing individuals they serve. The consequences of violating the terms of the confidentiality agreement should be included in the original contract so that the employees can understand the ramifications of breaking the confidentiality agreement. In New York, NDAs are firmly rooted in contract law and may be legally enforceable in the event that an employee violates the terms. Breaching a confidentiality agreement can lead to a civil lawsuit against the employee or even criminal charges, depending on the specific details and circumstances of the situation.

When Confidentiality Agreements Interfere With Whistleblower Rights

When an employee uncovers an unethical practice in the workplace, they may worry that reporting this sensitive issue puts them at risk of violating the terms of the confidentiality agreement they signed when they were hired. If you are currently in this predicament, it’s natural to feel conflicted and confused about what steps to take. On the one hand, you recognize your ethical obligation to report this unlawful behavior. On the other hand, however, you fear that reporting this information puts you at an even greater risk of violating the terms of the NDA you signed, which could lead to civil litigation or even criminal charges. In the event that you suspect that your employer is engaging in unlawful practices, it’s essential to begin documenting your findings and gathering evidence in support of what you have witnessed. You should also enlist the guidance and counsel of a highly qualified New York confidentiality agreement lawyer who can help you identify your next steps. No matter how overwhelmed and uncertain you may feel at this moment, you do not have to deal with this challenging dilemma on your own. Get started with a caring New York whistleblower lawyer today to learn more.

If you are struggling with whether to report unlawful or unethical business practices that you have witnessed at your place of employment, reach out to the dedicated and trusted legal team at Levy Ratner by calling (212) 627-8100. Our highly qualified New York employment law attorneys are ready to help you understand your legal rights and protections at every turn.