Even though many people may have heard the term whistleblower at one point or another, very few actually know what a whistleblower is or what protections they are entitled to.
That is why, to help you understand what it means to be a whistleblower in Florida, we have prepared the following guide on whistleblowers. Specifically, we will cover who they are and how they are protected by the law.
What is a whistleblower?
In Florida, a whistleblower is an individual who “blows the whistle” on their employer for taking part in fraudulent, corrupt, illegal, or harmful activities at their place of employment. When a whistleblower makes a claim, they are doing so because the public interest takes precedence over the interest of the specific business or organization they work for. There are two whistleblower statutes in Florida: one that covers the public-sector (governmental agencies) and one that covers private-sector employees.
Public sector whistleblowers
According to Florida’s Public Whistleblower’s Act, a whistleblower can be any of the following employees or people:
- Individuals who disclose information in a written and signed complaint based on their own initiative
- Individuals who refuse to participate in any adverse action that is prohibited by this section
- Individuals who are asked to participate in a hearing, investigation, or other inquiry
- Individuals who file a written complaint to their supervisory officials
- Individuals who submit a complaint to the Agency Inspector General, CIG, Whistleblower’s Hotline, or the Florida Commission on Human Relations
However, according to these regulations, only those whistleblowers who disclose one or both of the following types of information are protected. This information includes:
- Any violation or suspected violation of local laws, state laws, federal laws, or regulations committed by an employee, agent, or independent contractor that creates or presents a substantial and specific danger to the public’s safety, health, or welfare.
- Any act or suspected act of malfeasance, gross mismanagement, misfeasance, suspected or actual Medicaid abuse or fraud, gross waste of public funds, or gross neglect of duty committed by an agent, independent contractor, or employee.
Private sector whistleblowers
Private-sector employees are individuals who work for enterprises or private individuals. Under Florida’s regulations, employees who object to a policy, activity, or practice that violates a rule, law, or regulation and report or threaten to report their employers for their violations are protected from retaliation.
This retaliation often includes termination, but it can also involve less direct forms such as:
- Withheld commission or bonuses
- Denied benefits
- Getting passed over for a promotion
- Hostile work environment
- Selective enforcement of “rules” in the workplace
How does Florida’s Whistleblower Act protect you?
Regardless, if you are a private sector employee or a public sector employee, it is unlawful to retaliate for whistleblowing in Florida. Employees who can show that they have been retaliated against may be compensated for:
- Lost wages
- Back pay
- Full benefits
- Reasonable costs
- Withheld bonuses
- Reduced bonuses
- Reinstatement to their previous position
- Reinstatement of their seniority rights
- Liquidated damages
However, going after this compensation is complicated and requires relevant, detailed evidence and sound arguments. That is why it is critical that before you “blow the whistle,” you understand all the nuances involved with these cases. It may be in your best interest to work with an experienced Florida whistleblower attorney. Because of their in-depth knowledge regarding whistleblowing laws, these lawyers can help you understand your legal rights, determine whether you have a claim and if you do, fight for the damages you are entitled to.