In today’s “gig economy,” many New Yorkers work as independent contractors. The U.S. Department of Labor reported last year that nearly 1 in 10 workers were independent contractors, and that number only seems to be increasing.
However, contract workers often do not receive the same benefits as employees. They also do not usually have the same rights. That is because, under New York laws, they have a different relationship with their employer and the business.
This may lead many to wonder: if employees and contractors have different employment rights, do they also have different protections under whistleblower laws?
The federal government extended protections in 2013
Most laws that include whistleblower protections specifically state who is covered under the act. For example, the Whistleblower Protection Act’s (WPA) protections usually go into effect under three conditions:
- An individual made a protected disclosure, such as reporting a legal violation or misuse of funds.
- The employer took an adverse action against them because of this disclosure, such as demoting or firing them.
- The individual who filed the report was a “covered employee.” The act specifically states that a covered employee is a federal employee or an applicant.
However, the WPA extended and enhanced protections for federal contractors against retaliation if they made a “protected whistleblower disclosure.” These rights became a permanent part of the act in 2016.
Precedent can protect federal contractors too
Many federal laws include protections for contractors. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has also frequently upheld protections for contract workers.
Possibly the most famous example is the 2014 case of Lawson v. FMR, LLC. Two employees of an outside contractor reported legal violations made by Fidelity Investments and lost their jobs as a result. Circuit Courts initially denied them whistleblower protections, but the Supreme Court reversed this decision.
What about at the state level?
Federal laws might protect contractors in some circumstances, but what about state laws? Most notably, our neighboring state of New Jersey passed a law in 2007 that extended whistleblower protections to independent contractors. However, New York laws also provide some of the strongest protections for contract workers in the nation. And that includes when contractors report legal violations and blow the whistle.
Even though contractors usually have legal protections when blowing the whistle, it is often beneficial to consult an experienced attorney. That way, contract workers can ensure their rights are protected.