Generally, an employee can be fired at any time for any reason, under the “at-will” employment doctrine. However, several federal and state laws have carved out protections that restrict what an employer can fire an employee for. Usually these are areas like discrimination, workplace safety, and workers’ compensation filings.
A whistleblower is an employee who either reports an unsafe workplace or becomes aware of something illegal at work and makes the difficult decision to report the matter to the authorities. Federal and state laws protect these courageous whistleblowers from being fired or disciplined. Fear of losing a job is a huge barrier to reporting unethical business practices because many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and being out of work even temporarily can result in losing your home or car.
Whistleblower Protections in New Mexico
New Mexico does recognize at “common law” or through prior cases that an employee can’t be fired for a reason contradicting clear public policy. An example of against public policy would be an employer that requires you to break the law, whether that’s “cooking the books” or perjury in a civil case that could devastate the company if the truth got out.
Also, New Mexico has enacted statutes that protect employees from retaliation by firing, demoting, etc. for certain activities related to reporting or complaining about discrimination, Medicaid fraud, occupational health and safety (OSHA), mining safety, radiation control, and worker’s compensation.
Additionally, private employment contracts can provide additional protections. For example, your union’s collective bargaining agreement could include that making a complaint to a union representative can’t result in retaliation.
The table below outlines the main whistleblower laws in New Mexico.
|Code Sections||New Mexico Statutes Sections:
|Prohibited Employer Activity||An employee can’t fired or retaliated against if employee files complaint, testifies, exercises a right or institutes a proceeding related to the Human Rights Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Mining Safety Act, the Radiation Protection Act, or Medicaid Fraud, or seeks workers’ compensation benefits.|
|Remedies||Basically, an employee can be reinstated or rehired with back pay for retaliatory termination. However, each whistleblower statute was written differently and additional remedies could apply to your situation.|
|Penalties||Penalties vary from civil fines to criminal penalties, in addition to having to pay the whistleblower’s back pay.|
|Statute of Limitations||A whistleblower can sue the employer for the retaliation they experienced, generally within four years of the retaliatory action, unless a different time period applies. However, other limitations, like informing the Occupational Health and Safety Bureau within 30 days of a retaliation incident also apply. Be sure to double check with a lawyer before it’s too late!|
If you believe you were retaliated against for reporting discrimination or unsafe practices or for declining to do something illegal, than you should speak with an experienced New Mexico whistleblower lawyer. It’s best to act quickly because some claims have short time limits.
If you were discrimination against at work against you for a protected characteristic (like race, gender, religion, age over 40, sexual orientation, etc.), you should file a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau, learn more by seeing the New Mexico Civil Rights article. However, if you were retaliated against for an OSHA complaint, you should file a complaint to the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau immediately. For more information, call them at 505-476-8700.
Note: State laws are updated frequently, so be sure to contact an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify these employment laws.
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