Labor & Employment Law
Public Whistleblowers in Florida
Sass Law Firm represents state and local government employees subjected to retaliation because they reported their government employer’s wrongdoing.
What whistleblower protections are there for government employees in Florida?
State, local and municipal government employees in Florida are protected from retaliation if they engage in certain protected activities to expose violations of law, rules or regulations or gross mismanagement or gross waste of public funds.
The law that protects government workers is the Florida Public Whistleblower Act, Florida Statute Section 112.3187. Florida has a similar law for private sector employees, known as the Private Whistleblower Act. To learn more about the Florida Private Whistleblower Act protections, check out our Private Whistleblower page under Practice Areas.
Who is protected by the Florida public whistleblower law?
Government employees’ protections under the Florida Public Whistleblower law depend on the nature of the information disclosed, how it was disclosed and to whom. If the employee meets all of these requirements, the employee has engaged in protected activity under the public whistleblower law.
A. Nature of Information Disclosed. The employee must disclose or report the following wrongful conduct:
- Any 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.
- Any 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.
B. How the Information is Disclosed. Government employees are protected if they disclose the wrongdoings in the following ways:
- Submit a signed written complaint (typically an e-mail will suffice);
- Participate in an investigation, hearing or other inquiry by any agency or federal government entity;
- Refuse to participate in any adverse action prohibited by the whistleblower law;
- Initiate a complaint through the whistleblower hotline or the hotline of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Department of Legal Affairs;
- File a written complaint to their supervisory officials or a complaint to the Chief Inspector General in the Executive Office of the Governor or other person designated as an agency inspector general; or
- Submit a complaint to the Florida Commission on Human Relations.
C. To Whom Wrongful Conduct is Disclosed. An employee who reports violations of laws, rules or regulations or other gross mismanagement or wrongful conduct as mentioned above must do so to the following individuals or agencies in order to be protected:
- Any agency or federal government entity having the authority to investigate, police, manage or otherwise remedy the violation or act being disclosed. This can include to the Office of Chief Inspector General or an agency inspector general or the employee designated as agency inspector general;
- The Florida Commission on Human Relations (a state agency tasked with many functions involving enforcement of whistleblowing and anti-discrimination laws);
- The whistleblower hotline; or
- If the employer is a local government agency, such as a county or city or even school district, the information must be disclosed to a chief executive officer of the agency or other appropriate local official. An appropriate local official includes an employee’s supervisor.
Importantly, if the employee who makes the protected disclosures also participated in the unlawful activities, even at the direction of their superiors, the employee is NOT protected under the Florida public whistleblower law.
Can an employer retaliate against an employee who blows the whistle?
No. It is unlawful for a governmental employer or contractor of a governmental agency to take adverse employment action against an employee who engages in whistleblowing activities. Adverse employment actions include but are not limited to discipline, demotion, suspension or termination.
How do I file a public whistleblower complaint?
There are varying processes for pursuing a Florida public whistleblower claim, depending on if you are a state government employee or an employee of a local government agency, such as a county, school district or city.
Florida state employees must file a whistleblower retaliation complaint to the Florida Commission on Human Relations within 60 days of the when the employee knew or should have known of the retaliatory personnel action.
Local Government Employees
The deadline for a local government employee in Florida to pursue a public whistleblower retaliation claim depends on whether the local government has established an administrative procedure for investigating whistleblower retaliation claims.
- The deadline is 60 days from when the employee knew or should have known of the adverse employment action to pursue a whistleblower retaliation claims if:
- The local government enacted an ordinance establishing a whistleblower retaliation claim procedure; or
- The local government has a contract with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings to conduct whistleblower retaliation hearings.
- In the absence of any administrative procedure, then the deadline is 180 days from when the employee knew or should have known of the adverse personnel action to pursue a public whistleblower retaliation claim.
Knowing when administrative exhaustion is required and the deadlines you need to meet is critical to preserving your claim and the advice of an experienced employment attorney can be invaluable in protecting your rights.
What remedies are available to me under the Florida Public Whistleblower Act?
Some of the remedies available to public sector whistleblowers in Florida are:
- Reinstatement to the same or equivalent job position with full benefits and seniority rights restored;
- Recovery of back pay, lost wages, benefits and other types of remuneration;
- Obtaining an injunction against your employer preventing future harm or policy changes;
- Temporary reinstatement while your case is pending; and
- Attorneys’ fees and costs.
Does the Florida public whistleblower law protect federal workers?
No. Federal employees are protected under separate and distinct federal whistleblower laws.
Are public employees protected by federal law from retaliation for whistleblowing?
Yes, there are several federal laws that protect certain state and local government employees from retaliation for whistleblowing on a variety of different violations of laws and regulations or wrongdoing. Some of these include:
- Affordable Care Act
- Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act
- Clean Air Act
- Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
- Federal Water Pollution Control Act
- Safer Drinking Water Act
- Solid Waste Disposal Act
- National Transit System Safety Act
Sass Law Firm zealously advocates for the rights of whistleblowers. If you think you have a whistleblower claim against your employer, we urge you to seek legal advice from an attorney experienced in public employer whistleblower laws. Don’t delay as your claims are subject to strict time deadlines.