Whistleblower Protections for Independent Contractors: Legal Considerations

By Douglas Lipsky

Independent contractors often work without the security and benefits that regular employees enjoy, making their position in the workplace uniquely vulnerable. However, independent contractors are protected against whistleblower retaliation under New York State law. If you are working as an independent contractor and have evidence of wrongdoing by an organization, it takes a skilled employment lawyer to protect your rights and interests. Let’s take a look at whistleblower protections for independent contractors and how you can protect your rights. 

Understanding Whistleblower Protections

A whistleblower is an individual who exposes information or activities that are illegal or unethical within an organization. These disclosures can be made by employees, independent contractors, or members of an organization who witness wrongdoing. Whistleblower protections are designed to safeguard these individuals from retaliation, such as termination, demotion, or any form of harassment, as a consequence of their revelations. In essence, these protections are pivotal in encouraging the reporting of misconduct, thereby maintaining integrity and accountability within workplaces and organizations.

Whistleblower protections can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific laws in place. Generally, these protections are found in both federal and state laws. In New York, the primary state statute that offers protection to whistleblowers is the New York State Labor Law Section 740, also known as the “Whistleblower Law.” 

This law protects employees, including independent contractors, who report illegal activities, policies, or practices that pose a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety. It prohibits employers from taking any retaliatory action against an employee who discloses or threatens to disclose such activities, policies, or practices to a supervisor or a public body. Additionally, this law also covers instances where an employee objects to, or refuses to participate in, any such activity, policy, or practice that violates a law, rule, or regulation.

Challenges Faced by Independent Contractors.

Independent contractors face distinct challenges in the workplace, particularly when it comes to whistleblowing. Unlike traditional employees, they often lack the security of long-term contracts and can be more easily dismissed or not rehired, making the act of reporting wrongdoing a riskier proposition. This precarious employment status can deter independent contractors from coming forward with crucial information, as they may fear losing their livelihood without the protections typically afforded to regular employees.

Moreover, independent contractors often do not have access to internal reporting mechanisms that are available to full-time employees, such as human resources departments or dedicated compliance channels. They may also be less familiar with the specific legal protections and rights they hold in their role, leaving them more vulnerable to employer retaliation. This lack of support and information creates an additional barrier, making it harder for them to navigate the process of safely and effectively reporting misconduct.

Practical Advice For Whistleblowers

If you are considering blowing the whistle, consider the following steps:

  • Document everything: Keep detailed records of any wrongdoing, including dates, times, and involved parties.
  • Know your rights: Familiarize yourself with both state and federal whistleblower laws to understand your protections.
  • Report correctly: Identify the appropriate authorities or channels to report the misconduct, whether it’s within the organization or to external bodies.

After taking these steps, seek legal counsel. An experienced employment lawyer can provide guidance on your situation, help you navigate the complexities of whistleblower laws, and protect your rights. They can also assist in effectively communicating your concerns to the appropriate parties, maximizing the impact of your disclosure while minimizing potential risks.

The Takeaway

Understanding and utilizing whistleblower protections is essential for independent contractors who witness wrongdoing. By taking informed steps and seeking professional legal advice, you can ensure your rights are safeguarded as you contribute to a more ethical and accountable work environment. If you’re an independent contractor facing such a situation, contact an experienced employment lawyer for guidance and support in navigating these challenging waters.

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.