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Is a whistleblower protected under Florida law?

Under Florida law, an employer may not take adverse action against an employee who has objected to or refused to participate in an employer’s violation of any federal, state or local law, rule or regulation. Additionally, an employer may not take adverse action where an employee has reported, complained about or disclosed a violation of law, whether that complaint is made internally or to an outside agency (such as law enforcement or a regulating governmental agency). However, in order to be protected under the Whistleblower Act for complaining to an outside agency, an employee must first disclose in writing the illegal act to the employer. An employee is also protected under the Whistleblower Act for providing testimony or acting as a witness under subpoena related to an alleged illegal act of the employer.

For employees working for private (non-government) employers, a whistleblower claim must be filed within two years of the date of adverse action. The law provides for recovery of lost pay, lost benefits, attorney fees, costs and other compensatory damages (including for emotional distress). It is currently not clear whether an employee working for a non-public employer may recover punitive (or punishment) damages under the Whistleblower Act.

For employees working for a public or governmental employer, Florida provides additional protection for the reporting of conduct beyond illegal acts, including gross mismanagement, misfeasance, malfeasance and waste of public funds. However, there are certain time periods within which a complaint must be made to the employer as well as administrative prerequisites and time periods to file a complaint with either the public employer or the State of Florida Inspector General’s Office or the Florida Commission on Human Relations. After satisfying administrative requirements, an employee may bring a civil action in court and obtain relief including reinstatement, lost pay, lost benefits, attorney fees and costs. It is currently not clear whether a public employee can recover compensatory damages for emotional distress. No punitive (punishment) damages are available.

There are additional federal laws that offer whistleblower protection to employees in certain industries, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, applicable to public companies engaged in illegal acts.

If an employee believes he or she has suffered adverse action as a result of whistleblowing activity, the employee should seek legal advice from a qualified employment attorney as soon as possible. For further information regarding whistleblower claims, as well as other employment law matters, please fill out our contact form.