But there is a narrow area of the law regarding whistleblowers that does offer a measure of real protection for employees who report wrongdoing, and it has nothing to do with what the employee handbook says: it's when the employee is reporting a violation of the law that poses a significant danger to public safety.
Specifically, New York Labor Law §740 provides, in pertinent part, that "[a]n employer shall not take any retaliatory personnel action against an employee because such employee…objects to, or refuses to participate in any…activity, policy or practice in violation of a law, rule or regulation" (§740[c]).
This provision "is triggered only by a violation of a law, rule or regulation that creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public health and safety" (Remba v. Federation Empl. & Guidance Serv., 76 NY2d 801, 802 ). "Retaliatory personnel action" includes the discharge of an employee (Labor Law §740[e]). "An employee who has been the subject of a retaliatory personnel action in violation of this section" has a private right of action (Labor Law §740[a]).
To that end, and importantly, New York's courts have specifically held that this statute does not implicate financial activities, as one of New York's appellate courts recently stated as follows:
"Illegal economic or financial activities that may be inimical to the public welfare are not within the statutory protection absent a showing that the illegal activity concomitantly creates "substantial and specific danger to the public heath and safety" (see e.g., Remba, 76 NY2d at 802 [fraudulent billing does not create a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety]; McGrane v. Reader's Digest Assn., Inc., 822 F Supp 1044, 1051 [SDNY 1993] ["Financial improprieties within a corporation do not constitute threats to public health or safety"])."