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Local Florida whistle-blowers must blow whistle at local boss

Workers in Florida who report the illegal conduct or fraud of their employers are generally protected from being fired for doing so under federal or state employment laws. Such workers are called whistle-blowers, and whistle-blowers tend to be protected from experiencing retaliation for blowing the whistle. This does still happen, but when workers are fired for blowing a whistle they may seek job reinstatement and financial compensation.

However, whistle-blower laws are very complicated and they work differently for government employees than for those employed in the private sector. Yesterday, an appellate court ruled that a local government employee who was fired after complaining about his pay is not protected by Florida's whistle-blower protection law.

The Panama City Housing Authority employee had complained about his pay--that he was not being paid the same as his co-workers--to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2008, and about five months later he was laid off.

The court ruled that the whistle-blower protection law would have come into play if the worker had made the wage complaint to his boss, the city agency chief or another local official. The law does not cover complaints to federal or state agencies, the court ruled.

Whistle-blower protections are tied to strict guidelines. The lesson here is that local government workers cannot plan on being protected from retaliation unless they report their allegations to their local bosses. Additionally, many employees may be wise to seek legal guidance before they even file a complaint about their employer's illegal action in the first place, to ensure that they are doing so in a way that is protected by law.

Source: wtvy.com, "FL Court Rules on Whistleblower Complaint," Nov. 29, 2012

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