Reliance On Inapplicable Code Of Ethics Cannot Support CEPA’s Reasonable Belief Standard, New Jersey Appellate Division Holds

In Hitesman v. Bridgeway Inc., 430 N.J. Super. 198 (App. Div. March 22, 2013), the New Jersey Appellate Division held that an employee’s difference of opinion with his health care employer, concerning the steps the hospital was taking to combat the hospital’s infection rate, was insufficient to state a claim under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA). Although the employee cited a nursing code of ethics as the basis for his belief that the employer’s conduct was incompatible with a clear mandate of public policy concerning the public health, safety, or welfare or protection of the environment, the court found that this code did not apply to the employer (instead it provided guidance to nurses themselves). Therefore, the court held that there was no reasonable objective belief that the employer’s conduct constituted improper patient care or violated public policy. This case is now before the New Jersey Supreme Court, which recently granted certiorari.

Note: This article was published in the September 2013 issue of the New Jersey eAuthority.