New York’s highest court recently overruled longstanding precedent interpreting N.Y. Labor Code’s whistleblower law, finding that an employee is not required to identify the specific law, rule or regulation allegedly violated by the employer to survive a motion to dismiss.
In Webb-Weber v. Community Action for Human Servs., Inc., an employee alleged that she advised her employer regarding a number of issues, including falsification of patient medication and treatment records, inadequate fire safety, mistreatment of residents, and deficiencies in patient care, among other violations. These reports resulted in a number of sanctions, however the plaintiff did not identify any specific laws, rules or regulations that were purportedly violated in connection with the alleged activities of her employer.
The court found that the plain language of the statute does not require a plaintiff to identify the specific “law, rule, or regulation” violated. Still, the pleading must identify the particular activities, policies, or practices that the employee alleges to be a violation of law, so that an employer has notice of the alleged complained-of conduct.
Past the pleading stage, a plaintiff still has the burden of proving an actual violation of law, as opposed to merely establishing that the plaintiff possessed a reasonable belief that the violation occurred. Additionally, the violation must be of a kind that creates a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.