Social Development Minister Madeleine Dubé is defending her department's position on protecting whistleblowers, but two workers who reported bad behaviour at a special care home, say nobody helped them, even after an investigation found some complaints were valid.
The Sunview Manor special care home for persons with intellectual disabilities in Saint John was investigated by Social Development after five workers had reported mistreatment in May 2013.
The department cited several operating violations including improper administration of medication, mismanagement of funds and the use of profanity and yelling in the presence of residents.
The workers were laid off within a week of bringing the complaints to the province.
Dubé told CBC News Wednesday that her department wants to know about possible abuse. She also said that anyone who comes forward with concerns about special care homes will not be identified to the owners of the home and their jobs are protected under the law.
"We protect the identity of anyone. It could be a neighbour it could be a family member, it could be anyone. We do protect the identity. The only time that I can [reveal] it is to the court system. I cannot and I will not, and my department, under legislation, cannot [reveal] the identity of the complainer," said Dubé.
Blacklisted, say workers
Despite the minister's assurances otherwise, two of the laid-off workers, Charlene Pitre and Sherry Jeffers, remain convinced that they were outed by someone in the department.
And they say they were never informed of any protective legislation, even after the department knew they'd been laid off.
"She did not back us up. The department did not back us up," said Jeffers.
Kelly VanBuskirk, a Saint John lawyer who specializes in labour and employment, says whistleblower protection is found in Section 28 of the New Brunswick Employment Standards Act.
The section of legislation states: "An employer shall not dismiss, lay off, penalize, discipline or discriminate against an employee for giving information or evidence against the employer with respect to an alleged violation of any provincial or federal act."
'We were terminated. We lost our jobs because we followed the social development mandate.' - Sherry Jeffers
VanBuskirk said, "From a public policy perspective, there's a real interest in ensuring that employees have the opportunity to blow the whistle when their employer is committing some kind of illegality."
Last December, CBC News met with Pitre, Jeffers, and two families who had pulled their loved ones out of Sunview Manor after the complaints were laid.
Pitre and Jeffers — now without jobs — agreed to take one resident each into their own homes. Months later, they're still waiting for the department to grant them funding for those clients.
They say they are still being blacklisted.
"We were terminated. We lost our jobs because we followed the social development mandate," said Jeffers.
Calls to the owners of Sunview Manor weren't returned to CBC News.
The layoff slips issued to the workers said they were being let go due to business restructuring.
Pitre and Jeffers say they are now talking to a lawyer to see if they can make a case for wrongful dismissal.
Dubé says her department is working on making special care home inspections available online, but she still can't say when that will happen.
A CBC News investigation found that 22 special care homes in the province had multiple validated complaints. These complaints were investigated by the Department of Social Development and determined to have merit.
Residence St.-Isidore in the Acadian Peninsula had the most validated complaints of all special care homes in the province in 2013 with 13.