In New York, the “at-will” doctrine governs most employment relationships. That means an employer generally may fire an employee for any lawful reason without liability. However, New York law provides special protections for employees who are fired or otherwise retaliated against for raising concerns about improper activity that is harmful to the public health or safety. Employees who raise concerns about health care fraud committed by the employer are also protected.
Section 740 of the New York Labor Law prohibits employers from taking any retaliatory personnel action against an employee who has:
(b) provided information to, or otherwise assisted, a governmental agency conducting an investigation into such unlawful or improper conduct; or
(c) objected to or refused to participate in such unlawful of improper conduct.
An employee who has been terminated or retaliated against for “blowing the whistle” (as defined above) may bring a civil action against the employer. Remedies available to employees under Section 740 include compensation for lost wages and benefits, reinstatement or front pay in lieu of reinstatement, and payment of the employee’s attorneys fees and court costs.
The following are examples of violations of New York’s whistleblower law:
A nursing home fires an employee who complains to his supervisors regarding violations of state and federal regulations regarding the sale use and storage of oxygen tanks utilized to care for residents at the employer’s skilled nursing facility.
A medical laboratory demotes its clinical director after he objects to and threatens to disclose that the employer’s data system for validating and reporting patient information is out of compliance with federal and state regulations, which created a substantial risk of harm to patients.
A dental hygienist is fired for refusing to participate in her employer’s new policy of pushing unnecessary and potentially harmful services on patients.
A nurse manager is suspended for reporting to a member of the administrative staff that surgical instruments were not being sterilized properly and that nurses in the operating room had been discouraged from reporting such instances.