Are You Protected by the Florida Whistleblower Act?
Have you recently objected to any activity, policy, or practice of the employer which is in violation of a law, rule, or regulation?Unlike many whistleblower protections, your objection doesn't have to be in writing in Florida. But an objection to a breach of the employer's policies, or to an ethical violation, is not protected. While writing your long letter venting about every way the workplace is unprofessional may be satisfying, it can get you fired. The objection has to be to an activity, policy or practice of the employer. If you object to a coworker stealing from the company, it's not protected. What would be protected is objection to failure to pay overtime, discrimination based on a protected category (race, age, sex, religion, national origin, marital status, disability, color and, in a couple of counties, sexual orientation), safety violations governed by OSHA, or any other legal violation. Statutes, government regulations, and county/city ordinances would fall in this category.Even though the objection doesn't need to be in writing, I suggest you put it in writing so the employer can't deny it later.
Have you recently refused to participate in any activity, policy, or practice of the employer which is in violation of a law, rule, or regulation?The analysis is about the same as number one. If the employer asks you to do something actually illegal, you can refuse and you are protected. But I still suggest you put your refusal in writing.
Have you recently disclosed, or threatened to disclose, to a governmental agency, under oath, in writing, an illegal activity, policy, or practice?Unfortunately, this protection does not apply unless you have, in writing, brought the activity, policy, or practice to the attention of a supervisor or the employer and have given the employer a reasonable opportunity to correct the activity, policy, or practice. Because the statutory language is so convoluted, few employees fit in this category.
Examples would be making a formal written complaint of discrimination based on, say, sex. The formal complaint would say that, if the situation is not promptly resolved, you intend to file a charge of discrimination with EEOC. Then you could invoke this provision after giving them time to fix the situation. But it's way easier to fit within the "objection" category, which doesn't have to be nearly as specific.
Have you recently provided information to, or testified before, a governmental agency, person, or entity conducting an investigation of illegalities?This category applies to people who give information to the police, unemployment, EEOC, OSHA, a legislative body, or other entity actually doing an investigation of an illegal practice. If you fit in this category, you are also protected if you were subpoenaed to testify by a statute prohibiting employer retaliation for testimony under subpoena.
If you fit within any of these categories, does your employer have ten or more employees?The Florida Whistleblower Act only applies to employers with ten or more employees. Unfortunately, few statutes protect employees who work for small employers.
While you've probably heard lots about federal whistleblower laws, those can be extremely complicated and difficult to enforce. The Florida Whistleblower Act is one of those rare employment laws that is pretty simply drawn. If you've been fired shortly after objecting to or refusing to participate in an illegal activity, you may well be a protected whistleblower in Florida.
What else should you know about this law?Most employees have only two years from the date they discover the retaliatiory action to bring a lawsuit under this statute.
The remedies include reinstatement, lost wages and benefits, injunctive relief, and other compensatory damages.
The best course of action when terminated, particularly where you believe there was no just cause, is to contact an attorney who handles employment law to discuss your options.