The New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”) is designed to encourage employees to report illegal or unethical activities in the workplace and to protect those who do. CEPA forbids an employer from taking retaliatory action against employees who object to employer conduct that they reasonably believe is unlawful, unethical, or against the public health, safety, and welfare.
The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, recently confirmed that an employee’s normal job duties may not qualify as protected activity under CEPA. In Richardson v. Deborah Heart & Lung Center, the plaintiff worked as a quality control manager, whereby she corrected the work of her colleagues. In particular, her job was to ensure that information relating to medical procedures was correctly entered into the defendant hospital’s electronic database. She tried to argue that her duties in that role in and of itself qualified as protected activity under CEPA. The Appellate Division did not agree and held that normal job duties may not constitute protected activities even when those duties are, themselves, technically corrections or objections to other employees’ actions.
This case is good news for employers because the court refused to adopt an overly broad interpretation of protected whistleblowing activity. An employee whose job duties involve quality control will not automatically be considered to have engaged in protected conduct each time she performs her job by making or recommending an adjustment or correction to a product, practice or record.