DEFENDING EMPLOYEE RIGHTS.
If an employer does something illegal or unsafe, including discriminating, violating safety laws, avoiding tax liability, misusing donor money, or misclassifying employees as independent contractors, to name a few, an employee should report it. Sometimes employers retaliate against employees who make these types of claims. Retaliation does not always mean termination of employment. Employers may also harass, demote, cut your pay, pass you over for a promotion, or give you negative performance reviews. The Florida Whistleblower Act (FWA) protects employees from such unlawful practices.
A lawsuit under the FWA is a common employment-related claim. Florida protects both public and private employees. There are certain requirements of public sector employees, including filing an administrative claim within 60 days of the adverse employment decision, which makes contacting an attorney quickly critical.
Federal laws also provide additional protection in certain circumstances:
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (Corporate Responsibility Act) - Protects employees of publicly traded companies who provide physical evidence of fraud internally or to the U.S. SEC.
The Dodd-Frank Act - protects whistleblowers who provide information to the SEC by initiating, testifying in, or assisting in SEC investigations or judicial action.
The False Claims Act and Defense Authorization Act - Protects employees of companies that bill government health care programs, and other government contractors and grantees.
What constitutes protected activity also depends on whether you are an employee of a public or private entity.
Compensatory damages may be awarded, which includes money for out-of-pocket expenses caused by the retaliatory conduct (such as costs associated with a job search or medical expenses) and compensate for any emotional harm suffered (such as mental anguish, inconvenience, or loss of enjoyment of life).
Back pay, which includes money for lost wages and benefits up until the time of the resolution of the matter, may be awarded.
Also, front pay may be available, which includes money for lost wages and benefits going forward.
Finally, the court may award attorney's fees and costs.
Q. I have tried to tell my supervisor about something that is illegal and he or she is not doing anything about it. What should I do?
A. You should write down everything you told your supervisor and follow up in writing. If that is still ignored, you should continue to make your objections or complaints up the rank and copy Human Resources, if there is such a department, in all communications. If ultimately you are retaliated against, whether in the form of termination, demotion, transfer, or being ostracized, your documentation will help establish a whistleblower claim. Especially if others' health and safety is at risk due to the illegal activity, you should not delay.
Q. Can a complaint about anything be the basis of a whistleblower claim?
A. No. Under the Florida Whistleblower Act (FWA), any violation or suspected violation of a law, rule or regulation, meaning a requirement put in place by a government entity, can serve as a basis for a claim. However, as many aspects of the workplace are regulated, it is possible that the activity about which you are complaining is a violation of an actual law without you knowing it. It is not required that you know which law is being violated. Further, there are specific whistleblower statutes for particular industries and kinds of unlawful activity.
Q. I know something illegal is happening in the workplace, but I don't want to get fired. What should I do?
A. While making a complaint to your employer can cause the employer to retaliate, it is important that you report anything that you believe threatens the health and safety of your fellow employees or the public. Ultimately, it is entirely your decision what you do, but even if you face retaliation, whistleblower laws are there to protect you and get you compensation if your employer retaliates.
Not everyone wants the same resolution once he or she has suffered retaliation for being a whistleblower. For that reason, there are several avenues the firm can help you pursue. Your employer may be harassing you at the moment, but you want to keep your job. It can be empowering to have an attorney assist you in raising the issue with your employer and getting the harassment to stop. If you have already been fired or have resigned or quit, you may want to get your job back but under fair working conditions, or, you may feel that there is no going back and you must vindicate your rights in court. Whatever your situation, the solution can be tailor-made to suit your needs and goals.