Despite the common stereotype of employees who care little about their employers or doing a good job at work, many New York residents strive to be ethical, professional and efficient in the workplace. Some employees find themselves in positions where an employer is sacrificing health or safety to cut costs or simply because it is “easier.” Although an employee who takes on the role of a whistleblower may be in for a fight, there are laws and legal mechanisms that help provide protection for retaliation and ensure that employee rights are safeguarded.
A woman who worked as program director for the New York Methodist Hospital’s Center for Allied Health Education has sued her employer for wrongful termination. She claims that she discovered a serious health and safety concern that involved medical students providing treatment and care to cancer patients despite not having been screened or vaccinated for certain contagious diseases. According to the woman, she complained about the dangerous situation two separate times before she was ultimately fired. She asserts that the termination was in retaliation and out of fear that she would report the issue to a review committee that would soon audit the hospital.
This woman appears to have been motivated by a concern for the health and welfare of the critically ill patients at the hospital. At personal risk, she chose to report the issue to supervisors, likely believing that once they were made aware of the problem, they would work to correct it. In the best-case scenario, this is what happens. Whistleblowers are appreciated by their employers for the efforts to protect the best interests of those around them. In the worst-case scenario, however, a whistleblower may face discrimination, harassment or termination.
New York labor laws provide protection for employees who find themselves in these situations. Under state law, it is illegal to retaliate against employees who disclose activities or practices that present health and safety risks. Likewise, employers cannot retaliate against employees who provide information or testimony in any investigation of an employer related to a violation of a rule, law or regulation. However, it is important for employees to know that an actual violation must exist for them to be protected for whistleblowing activities under this law.
Source: New York Daily News, “New York Methodist Hospital axes whistleblower who told of public safety issue: suit,” Natalie Musumeci, July 13, 2014