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Employment Violations In The Pharmaceutical Industry


Workers in the pharmaceutical industry suffer from employment violations every day. Multiple laws protect victims of wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation, including federal, New Jersey, and New York laws.

Learn more about your rights and how to protect them. Charles Joseph, an employment lawyer with over two decades of experience fighting for his clients, offers free consultations for pharma employees.


Know Your Rights

Laws in New York and New Jersey protect pharmaceutical employees, including pharma reps, from discrimination, wrongful termination, sexual harassment, retaliation, and hostile work environments.

Federal and state laws offer strong protections for whistleblowers who face retaliation. Wage and hour laws also provide protections against denied overtime wages and other forms of wage theft.

If your employer has committed employment violations, contact employment lawyer Charles Joseph for a free consultation to determine whether you have a case.

Pharma Reps

Employment laws protect pharmaceutical representatives at work. Pharma reps work under different conditions than employees at corporate offices. For example, pharma reps may face harassment from doctors or from their supervisor during ride alongs.

In certain instances, different laws apply to pharmaceutical sales representatives. Pharma reps are not eligible for overtime pay, for instance. But pharma reps still receive protections from discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful termination, and retaliation.

Pharma reps may be able to file a suit against their company if they face harassment from doctors. New Jersey and New York sexual harassment laws cover outside individuals, like doctors, with whom your company works. If you complain to your employer about sexual harassment by a doctor, your employer must address your complaint, or they open themselves up to liability.

Laws also protect pharma reps in the field if their supervisor harasses them or creates a hostile work environment.

Wrongful Termination

Wrongful termination means firing someone for an illegal reason. Even in an at will state, employers cannot fire employees for acting as whistleblowers, for refusing to violate ethical rules, or for filing a discrimination or sexual harassment complaint.

At-Will States and Wrongful Termination

New York and New Jersey are both at will employment states. However, employers still cannot fire employees for reasons that violate the law. For example, a pharma company cannot fire a representative because of his or her gender, race, religion, or national origin.

Similarly, pharmaceutical companies in New York and New Jersey cannot fire employees as an act of retaliation. If an employee complains about sexual harassment or acts as a whistleblower, their employee cannot use that as cause to fire them.

Learn more about wrongful termination protections.

Workplace Discrimination

Pharmaceutical employees, including pharma reps, benefit from protections against discrimination in the workplace. This includes discrimination during the hiring process, while employed by the pharma company, and discrimination in firing.

For example, pharmaceutical companies cannot refuse to hire someone because they belong to a protected class. These protected classes include race, gender, religion, age, and disability status.

It is illegal for an employer to make employment decisions based on your membership in a protected category.

This includes decisions about hiring, firing, discipline, promotions, compensations, or any other condition of employment.

Learn more about common forms of workplace discrimination:

If you have been the victim of workplace discrimination, your employer may owe you back pay, front pay, emotional distress damages, and other financial compensation.

Sexual Harassment

Harassment in the workplace, including sexual harassment at work, violates the law.

Employees who face unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical harassment have protections under federal, state, and local laws. You are entitled to a workplace free from sexual harassment, and your employer can be held liable for sexual harassment at work.

The perpetrator of sexual harassment can be anyone at the company, from your boss to a vendor. Pharma reps may also have a case if they have been harassed by doctors. In New Jersey, the law protects employees from harassment by contractors or people in a business relationship with your company. If you complain to your employer, they legally must address the harassment or they may be liable. Even reporting harassment to your supervisor can make your employer liable.

If you have faced sexual harassment at work, you can file a lawsuit against your employer.

Retaliation

Retaliation occurs when an employer treats someone poorly to punish them for speaking out against discrimination, harassment, or wage theft. Retaliation laws also protect whistleblowers from poor treatment, including wrongful termination.

When employees complain about workplace violations or act as whistleblowers, laws protect them from retaliation. For example, if an employee files a complaint about workplace sexual harassment, their employer legally cannot fire them because of the complaint. This falls under the category of protected activities.

Other examples of protected activities include:

  • Reporting your employer for fraud or legal violations (i.e. acting as a whistleblower). In New Jersey, whistleblower protections are even stronger. If you internally report unethical conduct, even if it is legal, and face retaliation, you may have a claim.
  • Participating in an investigation to uncover illegal activities, including being a witness in a whistleblower investigation or testifying in an discrimination investigation.
  • Filing an EEOC complaint for discrimination, sexual harassment, or retaliation.
  • Reporting wage theft at your company, including filing a complaint about unpaid overtime.  
  • Refusing to carry out unethical or discriminatory orders. This also includes complaining about unethical work practices (in New Jersey or California), or telling your employer that they are violating safety laws or regulations in New Jersey, New York, and many other states.

Employees can prove retaliation by presenting evidence showing they were fired, demoted, or given a negative performance review after engaging in a protected activity.

Equal Pay

Paying women less than men who perform equivalent jobs violates the law. Similarly, it is against the law to discriminate in compensating employees. Equal pay laws outlaw differences in compensation based gender, race, religion, age, or disability.

In New York and New Jersey, pharma employees benefit from some of the strongest equal pay laws in the country. For example, the New Jersey Equal Pay Act, signed in 2018, makes it illegal for companies to offer women and minorities lower wages and benefits. The law also outlaws compensation discrimination based on age, marital status, sexual orientation, pregnancy, gender identity, and disability.

Pharma employees can use the act to sue for lost wages for up to six years after the pay discrimination occurred.

Hostile Work Environment

Hostile work environments can violate the law. This can include offensive remarks about protected classes, derogatory statements about a gender, or other hostile conduct that singles out a group of people.

The victims of a hostile work environment do not have to be members of the targeted group. The law protects everyone from the harm caused by a hostile work environment.

Anyone in a company can create a hostile work environment. Coworkers, supervisors, in other areas, and even vendors may violate hostile workplace laws. If your boss or someone else at work creates a hostile work environment, your company may be liable for his or her behavior.

Whistleblower Protections

Whistleblowers help protect public safety and stop fraud. In the pharmaceutical industry, whistleblowers can report prescription fraud, which violates the False Claims Act. Pharma companies cannot promote “off-label” uses of medication. This qualifies as defrauding the government.

The pharmaceutical industry must follow ethical protections and regulations, many of which protect pharma employees. Under the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act, for example, employers cannot retaliate against whistleblowers who report illegal or improper employer activities.

The law also protects employees who object to, or refuse to participate in, any illegal or fraudulent activities.

Under this law, a pharma employee who refused to promote off-label medications and lost their job can sue their employer for retaliation and wrongful termination. Whistleblowers may also receive a percentage of any monetary award against their company.

Layoffs and Terminations

Pharmaceutical layoffs may violate workers’ rights. Companies cannot discriminate when choosing which workers to let go. For example, a pharma company cannot lay off mainly older workers.

Employers also cannot use layoffs to fire employees who complained about harassment or acted as a whistleblower. This would qualify as a wrongful termination.

Even employees fired for cause may have legal protections. If your company asks to you to do something unethical and then fires you, you may have a cause of action under New Jersey laws. You also cannot get laid off for doing something the company asked you to do.

How to File A Pharma Lawsuit

If you’ve been the victim of wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, or other employment violations, you may have a case. An employment lawyer can help protect your rights, but many laws set a statute of limitation to file a suit.

If you file an employment lawsuit against your pharmaceutical employer, you may receive back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, and other financial restitution. Settlements can offer financial security while you find a new job and compensation for the harm caused by your employer.

Employment lawyer Charles Joseph offers free consultations for pharma employees.

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