Florida Whistleblower Act: What You Should Know

Florida Whistleblower Protection Act: What You Should Know

October 23, 2019

If an employer does something illegal or unsafe, including discrimination or neglecting to follow safety guidelines, an employee should report it. However, sometimes, employers retaliate against employees who make these types of claims. They may even fire the employee who filed the complaint. The Florida Whistleblower Act protects employees.

If you think you may be a victim of whistleblower retaliation, here’s what you need to know.

The term whistleblower is used to describe an employee who reports the illegal or dangerous operations of their employer to the proper authorities. If you’re an employee who has witnessed your employer violating laws or regulations, i.e., Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, or if you’ve seen acts that you believe violate public or personal safety, then you should report it. Once you do so, you may be considered a whistleblower.

Whistleblower retaliation is when an employer retaliates against (or punishes) the employee who has complained about a violation of a regulation, rule or law, opposed unlawful activity, and meets the specific eligibility requirements under specific laws for whistleblower status.

Employers can retaliate in several ways, including:

Many employees decide to stay quiet because they are scared of retaliation. However, there are whistleblower retaliation laws in place to protect employees who file legitimate formal reports against their employers.

There are numerous whistleblower retaliation laws for all types of industries. In 1970, Congress passed the OSHA act, and since then, 22 more federal laws protecting whistleblowers from retaliation have been adopted. Your retaliation lawyer will know which laws to reference during your case. Below are several whistleblower retaliation laws.

FEDERAL WHISTLEBLOWER LAWS

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act

(Corporate Responsibility Act)– Passed in 2002 to regulate financial practices and other corporations. Section 806 protects employees of publicly traded companies who provide physical evidence of fraud internally or to the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC). Section 1107 mandates that it’s a crime for any employer to knowingly retaliate a whistleblower who discloses accurate information to a law enforcement officer regarding an alleged federal offense.

The Dodd-Frank Act

(Passed after the 2008 financial crisis)– protects against whistleblowers to provide information to the SEC in the form of initiating, testifying in, or assisting in SEC investigations or judicial action.

The False Claims Act and Defense Authorization Act (Sections 827 & 828)-

Protect employees of government contractors and grantees who are whistleblowers.

The Whistleblower Protection Act-

Protects employees of the federal government who file a report stating their employer participated in one or more of the following:

  • Illegal activities
  • Gross mismanagement
  • Abuse of authority
  • Gross waste of funds
  • Actions that put the public in danger
  • The censorship that violates laws and/or will cause danger, abuse of power, or gross mismanagement

Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSC)

Protects employees who disclose information about safety concerns in consumer products.

Energy Reorganization Act-

Protects employees who disclose information about nuclear safety or any violations of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Federal Railroad Safety Act- 

Protects railroad company employees who report violations of federal railroad safety laws or who refuse to work because they had reasonable concerns that their working conditions were hazardous.

Food Safety Modernization Act (Created by the FDA)

Imposes more strict standards about food safety and handling – it includes whistleblower protections for employees involved in Manufacturing, Processing, Packing, Transporting, Distributing, Receiving, Holding, and Importing.

National Transit Systems Security Act (NTSSA)

Protects employees who work in the public transportation sector who disclose information about hazardous safety and/or security conditions.

Surface Transportation Assistance Act-

Protects whistleblowers in the trucking industry who disclose information about commercial motor vehicle safety or who refuse to operate a vehicle due to the employee’s reasonable concerns that the vehicle is not properly secure or safe to operate.

Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR 21)

Protects airline employees who disclose information about unsafe aviation practices or procedures.

EXAMPLES OF WHISTLEBLOWER RETALIATION

Whistleblower retaliation can take place in many forms. Still, the main point of retaliation is to make it impossible, or nearly impossible, for an employee who reports their employer to the authorities to adequately perform their job. Employers can retaliate in these ways, among others:

It can be difficult to tell or prove if an employer is retaliating. Shifting your job focus could be explained as a change in strategy, for instance. Generally, changes an employer makes that adversely affect your job count as illegal retaliation.

HOW TO PROVE WHISTLEBLOWER RETALIATION

If you believe your employer is retaliating against you because of a complaint you made, you might have a case for whistleblower retaliation. Your complaint can be as formal as presenting it to a governing agency, like OSHA, or as informal as bringing it up to your HR representative.

Proving employer retaliation can be difficult, depending on the circumstances. You’ll have to demonstrate a direct link between your employer’s retaliatory actions and your formal complaint or report. Physical evidence is the best way to prove whistleblower retaliation.

Start collecting documents that can be evidence in a whistleblower retaliation case.

For instance, keep a running list of retaliatory behavior, be sure to note the dates and times of each specific incident, what the behavior was, and how it negatively impacted you.

You should also find and keep historical documents of the retaliatory behavior as well as behavior before your complaint that can demonstrate a shift in your employer’s behavior toward you before and after your formal complaint. Having witnesses who saw the event you complained about and who have witnessed your employer retaliating against you can also be extremely helpful in winning a workplace retaliation lawsuit.

WHEN TO CONTACT A WORKPLACE RETALIATION LAWYER

Contact an employment lawyer when you’re unable to demonstrate that your employer is retaliating against you or when you’ve suffered damages that are negatively impacting your daily life. If you’ve lost your job or wages because of retaliation, a worker’s retaliation lawyer can help you prove retaliation and recover damages. Damages include lost wages (including stock options), lost health care benefits, and lost retirement benefits. Damages are awarded in cases where the lawyer can prove workplace retaliation.

BENEFITS OF HIRING A WORKPLACE RETALIATION LAWYER

Our workplace retaliation lawyers understand the law and know how to win workplace retaliation cases. We know which laws protect you as an employee, and they can help you take your documents and present them in a way that will award you the compensation in damages you deserve. Every law has different stipulations for what activities are or are not protected, called “protected activity.” Our workplace retaliation lawyers can define your “protected activity” so you can win your case and collect your damages.

FAQs ABOUT WHISTLEBLOWER RETALIATION

ARE THERE STATE WHISTLEBLOWER RETALIATION LAWS?

Each state has its own set of whistleblower retaliation laws, which cover topics such as discrimination, harassment, wage laws, and workplace safety. Depending on the state you work in, you could be covered under state whistleblower retaliation laws no matter what type of employee you are. Some state laws, though, only protect public employees.

In Florida, public and private employees are both protected from whistleblower retaliation. An employee can sue for reinstatement and receive compensation for:

  • back pay
  • lost wages
  • back and full benefits
  • reduced or withheld bonuses
  • reasonable costs
  • damages

However, privately employed workers who seek to be protected by the Florida Whistleblower’s Act must have disclosed or threatened to disclose, an activity, policy or practice of an employer that violates a law, rule, or regulation.

WHAT PROTECTS WHISTLEBLOWERS FROM RETALIATION?

There are several laws in place to protect whistleblowers from retaliation, as outlined above. These laws are in place because the government doesn’t want employees to stay quiet about things that impact the public’s health or safety out of fear of retaliation.

WHAT DO WHISTLEBLOWERS DO?

Whistleblowers tell the truth when they see illegal or unsafe practices being carried out by their employers. They can speak out by making a formal complaint to a governing authority or by speaking to their HR manager. To secure protection with whistleblower retaliation laws, whistleblowers must demonstrate that they genuinely believed the action they’re speaking against was illegal or unsafe at the time they filed their claim. You do not need to name the specific law when you complain, but some whistleblower laws require that the activity complained of is an actual violation of a law, rule, or regulation.

WHAT IS RETALIATION IN THE WORKPLACE?

Retaliation in the workplace happens when employers, in some way, punish an employee who has made a claim against them. This can be a claim about discrimination (sexual, racial, or gender), unsafe practices, or other illegal activities. The employer retaliates directly or indirectly by giving that employee different job descriptions, demoting them, lowering their pay, or even firing them.

HOW DO YOU PROVE RETALIATION AT WORK?

Keeping detailed written records is the best way to prove retaliation at work. Note every time your employer does or says something that you think is retaliatory. Keep historical documents that can prove that your employer acted in a different manner before you made a claim. For instance, if you received a great review a month before filing a discrimination claim and then got demoted after you made that claim, you could have a good case for whistleblower retaliation.

If you believe you were the victim of Whistleblower retaliation in Florida, it’s important to contact an employee rights attorney to represent your case. At Florin Gray Bouzas Owens, LLC, we fight for fairness, justice, and equal rights in the workplace. Contact us today to schedule a free, confidential consultation. We have locations in Tampa, Wesley Chapel, Lutz, and Orlando.

Contact our office to schedule a free initial consultation and case evaluation.

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