When a worker suspects that illegal activities are taking place within
the workplace, they have the right, and many feel the obligation, to report
those activities to the proper authorities. This act is known as whistleblowing,
and is protected under law. A recent court ruling, however, may cause
some workers to question whether turning their employer in could lead
to legal troubles and the need to mount their owncriminal defense.
The case went before the New Jersey Supreme Court, and centered on whether
an employee who took files from the workplace in order to support claims
of wrongdoing could be charged with a crime. The whistleblowing act was
in regard to accusations of discrimination and retaliation for reporting
the matter. The employee in question removed confidential documents from
her workplace in order to support those claims, but the employer argued
that such an act constituted theft.
The worker in this case was an employee of the North Bergen Board of Education.
Because she removed files from a government office, she was indicted for
official misconduct and unlawful taking. However, the prosecutor who went
before the grand jury failed to tell the participants that the documents
were taken in an effort to support the worker's civil case against
the Board. The worker sought to dismiss that indictment, but the courts
ruled to uphold it, stating that the prosecutor had no obligation to disclose
the reason behind the removal of documents from the workplace.
In earlier cases, the court has ruled that the act of taking documents
for use within litigation is a protected act under the Law Against Discrimination.
However, this recent ruling demonstrates that a New Jersey employee is
at risk of criminal charges if documents are improperly removed from the
workplace. The lack of clarity on the matter may leave many within the
state unsure of what action to take when considering whether to report
employer wrongdoing. The best way for workers to avoid the need for a
criminal defense strategy in such matters is to consult with an attorney
prior to removing any documents from the workplace.
Source: The National Law Review, "New Jersey Whistleblowers May Face Criminal Charges for Theft of Company Documents", June 26, 2015