Whistleblower actions are exploding everywhere and of course Florida is no exception. A whistleblower who complains about unlawful action and is fired can sue as a whistleblower. Many of you may have heard about whistleblower incentives and protections under the Dodd-Frank Act, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and the Affordable Healthcare Act. The Florida Whistleblower Act governing private industry employees protects Florida employees, and is liberally applied. In fact, more Floridians are turning into whistleblowers and claiming that they cannot be fired once they blow the whistle.
The Florida Whistleblower Act is an exception to Florida’s at-will employment doctrine in that it provides employees a cause of action against employers who wrongfully discharge them for objecting to or refusing to participate in the employer’s illegal practices. More specifically, a company cannot retaliate against an employee who objects to or refuses to participate in, any activity, policy or practice in violation of a law, rule or regulation. Employees are protected under this part of the Whistleblower Act even if they don’t complain in writing to the company. Some courts in Florida require the whistleblower to establish an actual violation of a law, rule or regulation. Other courts allow a whistleblower to proceed even if the complaint does not involve an actual violation of the law, rule or regulation, as long as the whistleblower had a good faith reason to believe that a law, rule or regulation was violated.
Florida is one of the stronger “at will” employment states in the country. A whistleblower is protected even if he or she is an “at will” employee without an employment agreement. A successful whistleblower can be reinstated and obtain damages, including damages for emotional distress, and attorney’s fees.
Companies doing business in Florida can pay a steep price if they retaliate against whistleblowers. Be careful and make sure that you quickly investigate all claims of illegal activity, even if the complaint is not in writing.