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New York Expands Employee Whistleblower Protections

By Douglas Lipsky

New York Governor Hochul recently signed legislation that significantly expands protections for whistleblowing activity by employees. The new law, which becomes effective Jan. 26, 2022, amends Section 740 of New York Labor Law (NYLL) by strengthening protections for private-sector employees alleging retaliation. The best way for employees and employers to understand their rights and obligations under the amended law is to consult with an experienced whistleblower retaliation lawyer.

The Backdrop

Previously, whistleblower protections under Section 740 of NYLL were limited to protecting employees who report a violation of law that created or presented a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. This means that an employee who reported any other form of illegal activity (e.g. discrimination, sexual harassment, tax evasion) was not protected against retaliation under the NYLL. Moreover, whistleblowers were only protected for reporting an actual violation of the law.

The new law expands protections for whistleblowers in several ways:

  • Employees entitled to protection against retaliation now include former employees and independent contractors.
  • The scope of protected activity has been expanded to include any violation of any federal, state, or local law, rule, or regulation as well as executive orders, judicial rulings, and administrative decisions.
  • The expanded law now protects an employee who discloses or threatens to disclose an activity, policy, or practice that she or he reasonably believes is in violation of the law. Previously, whistleblowers were required to have knowledge that the reported conduct was an actual violation of the law.
  • The definition of prohibited retaliation includes not only discharge, suspension, or demotion, but also any other adverse employment action or threat to take such action.
  • The statute of limitations to file a lawsuit alleging whistleblower retaliation has been extended from 1 year to 2 years. 

Importantly, employers alleging retaliation are now entitled to a jury trial, and courts may order a civil penalty of up to $10,000, as well as lost compensation, injunctive relief, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs.

Why This Matters

In sum, the new law significantly expands employee protections against retaliation under the NYLL and exposes employers to additional liability. Despite the more robust protections under Section 740, blowing the whistle on your employer is daunting. Moreover, proving retaliation is challenging because employers know how to conceal their unlawful motives. 

If you reasonably believe that your employer has violated any law, rule, or regulation or you have been retaliated against in any way for reporting such illegal activity, talk to an employment lawyer who will be the strength in your corner.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.