Because they take it upon themselves, often at real personal risk, to report serious misconduct in businesses or governmental agencies, whistleblowers play an important role in our society. Such individuals provide an essential check on violations of laws, regulations, rules or other types of malfeasance that could otherwise put the public interest in jeopardy. Fortunately, multiple state and federal laws exist to offer protection and redress for individuals who are willing to call attention to the misdeeds of others in the workplace in order to hold responsible parties accountable.
Florida Whistleblower’s Act
In Florida, whistleblowers can find substantial statutory protection in the provisions if the Florida Whistleblower’s Act. Under this law, employees of private businesses must establish six distinct elements to state an actionable claim, including:
- that he or she disclosed or threatened to reveal information to an agency in writing;
- that there was an activity, practice or policy of his or her employer;
- that he or she suspected was an actual violation of a rule, law or regulation;
- that his or her employer retaliated as a result of the disclosure or the threat;
- that he or she did provide written notice to the employer of the offending practice; and
- the employer therefore had a reasonable chance to remedy the policy, practice or activity
By contrast, employers of public entities are covered only if the activity they disclosed is in fact illegal, presents a danger to the safety, health or welfare of the public, or constitutes gross mismanagement or a waste of public monies. Another key distinction under the Florida statute is that private employee whistleblower notices must be done under oath, while public employees’ notices may take any form, just as long is they are written and signed.
Remedies Under Florida Law
Private employees must file their action within two years of the adverse event in question, and they may be able to recover lost wages and benefits, attorney fees and compensatory damages for things such as emotional distress. Public employees can seek reinstatement, lost wages and benefits, attorney fees and costs, though no punitive damages are available. Given the negative impact that employer retaliation can have on a whistleblower and his or her family, it is essential that every dollar of compensation be pursued by a seasoned Florida attorney.
Federal Whistleblower Protections
In addition to Florida’s Whistleblower’s Act, a series of federal statutes also exist for the purpose of protecting individuals against retaliation for exposing illegal or improper conduct. The federal False Claims Act assists whistleblowers in shining light on fraud in government contracting, in Medicaid and Medicare administration, in the operation of nursing homes, and in compliance with labor, anti-kickback, environmental and competitive bidding laws. Plaintiffs can win reinstatement and seniority, double back pay, accrued interest, special damages as well as attorney fees, should they prevail in a claim under the Act.
Many other federal laws offer protections for whistleblowers in a variety of employment contexts, but it is important to note that the process for pursuing claims under those statutes can differ significantly from traditional litigation. Many of these statues require that such claims are handled administratively and they do not provide for a private cause of action.
Pursuing Justice as a Whistleblower
If you have already, or are currently contemplating bringing attention to improper or illegal conduct at your workplace, you owe it to yourself to learn all you can about your rights as a whistleblower. Do not allow fear of retaliation and adverse employment actions stop you from doing what you know is right. A knowledgeable Florida whistleblower attorney can provide sound advice about your specific situation and valuable guidance about your legal options.