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New York Expands Whistleblower Protection Law to Protect Healthcare Workers from Retaliation

Zipped WhistleThroughout the COVID-19 pandemic many healthcare professionals have turned to social media to express their frustration regarding treating large amounts of COVID-19 patients and the lack of personal protection equipment provided by their employers.  Some of the postings by healthcare professionals have gone viral thereby persuading healthcare corporations to confront the issues raised by their employees to satisfy the public outcry of these viral posts.  As a preventive measure, hospitals around the country have taken a different approach by revising their social media guidelines to silence healthcare workers from speaking out. According to Business Insider, Hospital Corporation of America informed their employees that anyone who publicly discusses their coronavirus policies could face suspension or even termination.  Bloomberg news reported that NYU Langone Health system informed employees that they would face disciplinary action for talking to media outlets without prior authorization. Similarly, New York’s Montefiore Health System required employees to obtain authorization to speak to the press or “speak on behalf of the institution in any capacity, without pre-approval,” as reported in Bloomberg News.

In order to combat the rise of hospitals restricting their staff from speaking out against working conditions in response to COVID-19, Governor Cuomo recently signed New York Senate Bill S8397-A, sponsored by NYS Senator Diane J. Savino and co-sponsored by NYS Senators Alessandra Biaggi, David Carlucci, Leroy Comrie, and Robert Jackson.  The amendment to New York Labor Law section 741 expanded current whistleblower protection to shield healthcare workers from disciplinary action for making public complaints of employer violations.

The amendment to section 741 includes a new definition, “ Improper quality of workplace safety” which now allows employees to make complaints in regards to, “ employees, any practice, procedure, action or failure to act of an employer which violates any law, rule, regulation, or declaratory ruling adopted pursuant to law where such violation relates to matters may present an unsafe workplace environment or risk of employee safety or a significant threat to the health of a specific employee.” The amendment goes further by prohibiting retaliatory action against any employee who discloses complaints about improper quality of workplace safety to “a news media outlet, or to a social media forum available to the public at large.” Although whistleblower protection under New York Labor Law legislation dates to 2014, the amendments the expansion against retaliatory actions against healthcare employees in a public forum allows healthcare employees to have a voice.

If you feel that you have been retaliated against for making complaints against your employer during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, please contact the NY employment attorneys at Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. immediately to schedule a consultation.

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