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March 30, 2022 | BusinessEmploymentFloridaFrom the blog

Employee Protections in Florida: Whistleblowers and Retaliation

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Andrew Ramstad

Associate Attorney

Florida, like many states, expressly protects employees from retaliation for reporting unlawful conduct by their employer.  The purpose of such laws is to encourage workers to disclose illegal activities they discover in the course of their employment.  In some cases, workers can also sue their employer and obtain damages as whistleblowers.  Florida whistleblower law may not be as strong as that of other states like California or New York; however, it still provides significant employee protections as explained further below.

The Florida Whistleblower Act

The Florida Whistleblower Act provides that private sector employers cannot retaliate against an employee who engages in any of these activities:

  • Discloses or threatens to disclose any allegedly unlawful action in the workplace, provided they give the employer reasonable written notice and an opportunity to remedy the violation;
  • Participates in any capacity in a court action that pertains to any unlawful action in the workplace; or
  • Refuses to participate in any allegedly unlawful activity in the workplace.

To prevail in a lawsuit, the employee must show that they engaged in one of the above activities, they suffered an adverse employment outcome and there was a causal relationship between the employee’s disclosure and the adverse employment outcome that the employee suffered.  Examples of adverse employment outcomes include firing, demotion, harassment, pay cut or similar consequence.

The remedies for retaliation include reinstatement if fired and recovery of damages such as lost pay, emotional distress and attorney’s fees.

Similar rules apply to public-sector employees under a different statute.  However, such employees are also protected if they file a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations, the Office of the Chief Inspector General, the Agency Inspector General or the Whistleblower’s Hotline.  The employee’s complaint must involve a violation of federal, state or local laws or regulations or acts or suspected acts of “gross mismanagement, malfeasance, misfeasance, gross waste of public funds, suspected or actual Medicaid fraud or abuse or gross neglect of duty committed by an employee or agent of an agency or independent contractor.”

Public employees also must comply with strict reporting requirements to qualify as a whistleblower.

Florida False Claims Act and Federal False Claims Act

The Florida False Claims Act allows an employee to sue an employer on behalf of the state of Florida where the employee discovers the employer defrauded the state or local government.  The Federal False Claims Act has similar provisions but applies only to defrauding federal agencies.  These claims often involve the healthcare, education and construction sectors.

Other Federal Laws

In addition to the Federal False Claims Act, several federal laws protect whistleblowers.  These include the Whistleblower Protection, Sarbanes-Oxley Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act, and other laws and Presidential executive orders.

If you are a Florida employee or employer and believe that the Florida whistleblower law may apply to you, contact an experienced attorney to discuss the best option for protecting your rights and resolving your matter.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

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