And by ‘jawn,’ I mean just about anything. But here, specifically, Philadelphia has a new anti-retaliation whistleblower law.
Juliana Feliciano Reyes writing here for the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Thursday that City Council voted unanimously for this legislation that would make it illegal for employers to fire, discipline, or otherwise retaliate against workers who speak up about unsafe coronavirus conditions.
On Friday, Mayor Kenney made it official and signed the legislation into law.
So, what exactly does this new law say?
It says a few things.
First, employers can’t take any adverse action (e.g., reduce pay, reduce hours, fire, refuse to hire, harass, or threaten someone’s perceived immigration status) against an employee who:
- refuses to work in unsafe conditions if the employee reasonably believes that the employer is violating a local or state COVID-19 public health order; and
- communicates to his/her employer that it is operating unsafely.
The employer can alleviate the issue by providing the employee with a reasonable alternative work assignment that does not expose the employee to an unsafe condition. Additionally, the employee’s complaint is moot if the Philadelphia or Pennsylvania Department of Health inspects the workplace and gives the all-clear.
Second, employers cannot take any adverse action against an employee who, in good faith, tells his/her employer that the employee will blow the whistle on the employer’s perceived violation of a local or state COVID-19 public health order that may significantly threaten the health or safety of employees or the public.
I italicized “reasonably believes” and “in good faith” because the employee can be wrong about the employer violating a local or state COVID-19 public health order and still have a cause of action for retaliation under this new law.
Can an employee sue privately?
But employees must file an administrative charge with the City’s Department of Labor first and then get a right to sue letter.
What can an employee recover?
Back wages, reinstatement, “other compensatory damages,” attorney’s fees, and “civil penalties on behalf of the City for each in which a violation occurs.”
Is this basically New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act, but for COVID-19?
Yeah, pretty much.