More and more often we hear in the news of employees who are “whistle-blowers” and whom have incurred what they consider to be retaliation for taking a stand against corruption and/or illegal activities in the workplace. There is legal recourse for such a scenario.
Florida has two “whistle-blower” statutes, one for private sector and one for public sector employees. Florida’s public sector “Whistle-blower” Act (“the Act”) is found at §112.3187, Florida Statutes, under Part III of the Code of Ethics for public officers and employees. It provides protection for public employees who disclose “[a]ny violation or suspected violation of any federal, state, or local law, rule, or regulation committed by an employee or agent of an agency or independent contractor which creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public’s health, safety, or welfare.” The Act also prohibits “[a]ny act or suspected act 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.” In simple terms, the Act prohibits retaliation for reporting violations of laws or regulations, as well as misuse of public funds, and neglect of duty.
If “blowing the whistle” against a state agency, in order to be protected under the Act, the information revealed must be reported to a proper entity with the authority to investigate, or calling the whistle-blower’s hotline created under the Act. However, for disclosures concerning a local governmental entity, including any regional, county, or municipal entity, special district, community college district, or school district or any political subdivision of any of the foregoing, the information must be disclosed to a chief executive officer as defined by the Florida Statutes, or other appropriate local official.
The time to report a complaint of suspected retaliation under the Act is only 60 days. Upon receipt of notice from the Florida Commission on Human Relations of termination of its investigation following a complaint by a State agency employee, one may elect to pursue the administrative remedy available or bring a civil suit within 180 days after receipt of the notice.
Local (i.e. non-State) public employees may file a complaint with the appropriate local governmental authority, if that authority has established by ordinance an administrative procedure for handling such complaints or has contracted with the Division of Administrative Hearings to conduct hearings. Within 180 days after entry of a final decision by the local governmental authority, the public employee who filed the complaint may bring a civil action in any court of competent jurisdiction. If the local governmental authority has not established an administrative procedure by ordinance or contract, a local public employee may also bring a civil action in a court of competent jurisdiction within 180 days after the retaliatory action.
Remedies for successful whistle-blowers include compensation for lost wages, benefits, or other lost remuneration caused by the adverse action; payment of reasonable costs, including attorney’s fees; reinstatement or front pay; and injunctive relief.
At Wilson McCoy, P.A.. we have a great deal of experience in handling cases on behalf of public employees, including analyzing whether whistle-blower protection applies. If you would like to know more about your rights in your particular circumstance as a public sector employee, please contact us at 407-803-5400 or [email protected], for an analysis of your situation and to schedule a consultation.