1. What legal protection does Florida provide to employees in regards to whistleblowing and retaliation claims?
Generally, Florida follows the at-will employment doctrine where employees can be fired at any time for any reason. However, many exceptions to this general exist. Exception come from either the Common Law or from statutes enacted by the legislature. Statutory protections tend to be specific, addressing certain subject areas, but legislators often lack the foresight to address every situation of retaliation. Common law protections, on the other hand, tend to fill in the gaps where no statute exists for a given situation.
Florida strictly follows the common law at-will employment policy. The courts of Florida have not recognized a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. Rather, Florida courts have followed the policy that any public policy exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine properly emerge from the legislature. Therefore, in Florida an employer may terminate an employee at any time for any reason, unless the termination is in violation of a statute.
Florida has passed two main statutes to protect employees from retaliation, one of which protects public employees while the other protects private employees. The Florida Whistle-blower’s Act protects public employees. Fla. Stat. Ann. § 112.3187. Private employees are protected under the Florida Private Sector Whistleblower Act. Fla. Stat. Ann. § 448.102. Other various Florida statutes also include protections against retaliation, including against termination because of the filing of a worker’s compensation claim.
In addition to the above state protections, federal law provides workers with additional protections. Furthermore, a private contract or collective bargaining agreement may also protect employees from certain forms of retaliation.
2. What activities does state law protect and to whom does this protection apply?
Florida common law does not offer employees public policy exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine. However, Florida does offer employees broad protection under its two main whistleblower statutes and under various other specific statutes.
Public Employees General Protections: An employee may not be discharged (or discriminated against) in retaliation for disclosure of information regarding violations of federal, state or local law or any act or suspected act of gross mismanagement, waste, Medicaid fraud or abuse, or gross neglect of duty committed by an agency or independent contractor. Fla. Stat. § 112.3187.
Private Sector Employees General Protections: An employee may not be discharged (or discriminated against) for disclosing or threatening to disclose to an appropriate governmental agency a practice of the employer that is in violation of a law or regulation. However, the employee does have a responsibility to bring the matter to the attention of a supervisor in writing. Additionally, an employee may not be discharged (or discriminated against) in retaliation for participation in an investigation or for refusing to to participate in a violation. Fla. Stat. § 448.102.
Workers’ Compensation: An employee may not be discharged (or discriminated against) for claiming workers’ compensation. Fla. Stat. § 440.205
3. How do I file a whistleblower or retaliation claim in Florida?
Generally: An employee in the private sector may file a wrongful discharge lawsuit in an appropriate court. The lawsuit must be filed within 2 (two) years of discovering the alleged personnel action was taken. If you believe you have a claim you should contact a lawyer. Fla. Stat. § 448.103.
Public Employee Claims: A lawsuit must be filed within 180 days of receiving notice of the termination of the investigation of the claim filed with the Florida Commission on Human Relations. If you believe you have a claim, you should contact a lawyer. Fla. Stat. § 112.3187.
Florida Commission on Human Relations
4075 Esplanade Way, Room 110
Tallahassee, FL 32399
Phone: (850) 488-7082
Workers Compensation: An employee must bring a lawsuit alleging a violation of the anti-retaliation provisions of the workers’ compensation statute within 4 (four) years after the personnel action. If you believe you have a claim, you should contact a lawyer. Fla. Stat. § 440.205. See also Scott v. Otis Elevator Co., 524 So. 2d 642 (Fla. 1988).