Most states, including Florida, have an “at-will” employment policy. This policy means that employers can fire their employees at any time and for any reason that does not go against constitutional provisions. However, if you are dismissed unfairly from work, you may want to consult with an employment lawyer Daytona Beach firm on your available legal recourse. 

What does the “at-will” employment policy mean for whistleblowers?

Employees in Florida are protected from unfair dismissal because of whistleblowing by two Acts. There’s the Florida Whistleblowers Act and the Florida Private Sector Whistleblower Act, Fla. Stat. Ann. § 448.102, which protect employees in public and private sectors respectively.

Definition of a Whistleblower in Florida

In Florida, a whistleblower is considered someone that “blows the whistle” on his or her employer for taking part in harmful, fraudulent, illegal, or corrupt activities at the workplace. 

According to Statute 448.102, employees are protected when they whistleblow on illegal activities by their employer, even if the activities are not connected to the employee-employer relationship. This means that a whistleblower can be protected when he or she provides information about any illegal activity carried out by the employer, even if it is not directly related to the company where the person is working.

How Are Private Company Employees Whistleblowers Protected?

The Florida Private Sector Whistleblower Act, Fla. Stat. Ann. § 448.102 has the attributes of various anti-retaliation statutes that prevent the illegal dismissal of an employee. In particular, the Act protects employees from dismissal due to:

  1. Disclosing or threatening to disclose an activity or policy of an employer that contravenes the law
  2. Providing information or testifying to an appropriate investigation agency into an alleged violation of the law by the employer
  3. Objecting to or refusing to participate in an activity requested by an employer that is against the law

Retaliatory actions are not explicitly defined in the private employees’ Whistleblowers Act. However, some of the implied actions include demotion, suspension, discharge, or any other adverse employment action that an employer may take against an employee.

Whistleblowers in the Public Sector

Statute 112.3187 that is under the Florida Whistleblower Act protects employees in the public sector from retaliatory consequences from their employers. However, an employee must qualify as a whistleblower and follow the laid down procedures of reporting illegal activities that the employer may be involved in.

According to the Act, a whistleblower is defined as someone who:

  • Has filed a written complaint with their supervisor(s)
  • Has declined to take part in an illegal activity
  • Was asked to take part in an inquiry, hearing, or investigation
  • Disclosed information on their own volition through a written and signed complaint
  • Filed a complaint with the Agency Inspector General, the Office of the Chief Inspector General, the Florida Commission on Human Rights, or the Whistleblower’s Hotline

One important thing that must be mentioned is that the statutes protect not only public-sector employees but also any other person that may want to disclose information about a public employer.

The information to be disclosed can either be related to gross misconduct or violation of rules or laws.

How Are Whistleblower Protected Under Florida Law?

Both the public and private whistleblower protection Acts prohibit employers from initiating retaliatory actions against a whistleblowing employee. 

Public sector employees that suffer retaliatory consequences for whistleblowing against their employers are required to file a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Rights. The complaint must be filed within 60 days of when the alleged retaliatory action was taken.

Whistleblowers that work in the private sector are also protected. However, under Florida law, the protection only applies to employees in companies that have more than 10 employees. 

Restrictions in Protections

There are also other significant restrictions in protection that potential whistleblowers should note. For example, the protections in the Act apply to employees that disclose or refuse to participate in an activity that violates a regulation, rule, or law. The burden of proof will be on the whistleblower to show that he/she refused to participate in an activity that would have been a violation of the law.

On the other hand, if you protest or report, in good faith, an activity that turns out not to be a violation of any regulation or law, what happens? What if the situation you observed does not apply in the Whistleblower statute or the employer was exempted in a way that you were not aware of? 

Some violations cases can be quite complicated to navigate and, sometimes, you may not have all the facts right regarding an activity that you observed, which you thought was illegal. For this reason, employees are usually protected as long as they acted in good faith and believed that the employer was violating some regulation, rule, or statute.

Where Should You Register Your Complaints?

The Florida Whistleblower Act outlines that whistleblowers should register their complaints with the appropriate agency (for example, the Whistleblower’s Hotline, the Agency Inspector General, the Office of the Chief Inspector General, or the Florida Commission on Human Rights).

Whistleblowers working in the private sector that are wrongfully terminated have to file a lawsuit within two years from the time the adverse action was taken. On the other hand, those that work in the public sector have up to 60 days to file an administrative complaint. From there, they can go ahead and file a civil action, if they have met the administrative prerequisite. 

The time limit for filing a civil action varies depending on the administrative agency that will be investigating your claim. The time can be as short as 180 days.

When you file a suit, you are eligible for restitution from the employer. The Florida Whistleblower Act provides for the following types of restitutions:

  • Liquidated damages
  • Compensation for the damages you suffered due to the retaliatory action
  • Compensation for the attorney fees
  • Compensation for the wages you could have earned in the future
  • Compensation for lost benefits or wages
  • Reinstatement of benefits and seniority rights
  • Reinstatement to your former position

Whistleblower cases are often complex and, so are the statutes interpreting them. Therefore, it is advisable to hire a workplace retaliation lawyer to know your options before blowing the whistle on your employer. The attorney will also explain to you the best course of action to pursue if the employer has implemented retaliatory action against you.

By: Melody Lankford
After graduating from Davidson College, Melody Lankford earned her J.D. from Florida State University’s College of Law in 2004 and was admitted to the Florida Bar that same year. Ms. Lankford joined Raydon Corporation as in-house counsel in 2004. She worked there until 2012, when she founded the Lankford Law Firm. She is an experienced Daytona Beach small business attorney who offers sound legal counsel and experience-based insights to her business clients.