Florida Public Employee Whistleblower Attorney
Expert Whistleblower Representation for Public Employees
At Yormak Employment and Disability Law, we understand that honest, courageous public employees play a vital role in maintaining the integrity of our government institutions. As one of Florida’s few board-certified employment law experts, Benjamin Yormak is committed to protecting and representing public employees who bravely step forward to expose wrongdoing within their organizations. We are dedicated to guiding whistleblowers through the legal process and ensuring their rights are protected under Florida’s Public Whistleblower Act.
Florida Whistleblower Law for Public Employees
The Florida Public Whistleblower Act (Florida Statute Section 112.3187) serves as a safeguard for public employees who choose to report violations of law, rules or regulations, gross mismanagement, or gross waste of public funds. This vital legislation aims to prevent government agencies or independent contractors from retaliating against their employees for disclosing information that serves the public interest.
Who is Protected by Florida’s Public Whistleblower Law?
The Florida Public Whistleblower Act provides protection to state, regional, county, local, and municipal government employees, as well as employees of public schools, community colleges, and state universities. However, the protections granted to these employees depend on several factors, including the nature of the information disclosed, how it was disclosed, and to whom it was disclosed. If the employee meets these requirements, they have engaged in protected activity under the public whistleblower law.
Protected Activities and Disclosures
To be protected under the Florida Public Whistleblower Act, public employees must follow specific guidelines when disclosing information.
Nature of Information Disclosed
Employees must disclose or report one of the following types of wrongful conduct:
- Any violation or suspected violation of 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; OR
- 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.
How the Information is Disclosed
Government employees are protected if they disclose wrongdoings in the following ways:
- Submit a signed written complaint (an email typically suffices);
- 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.
To Whom Wrongful Conduct is Disclosed
In order to be protected, an employee who reports violations of laws, rules, or regulations or other gross mismanagement or wrongful conduct must disclose the information to the following individuals or agencies:
- 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 the Office of Chief Inspector General, an agency inspector general, or the employee designated as an agency inspector general;
- The Florida Commission on Human Relations (a state agency tasked with enforcing whistleblowing and anti-discrimination laws);
- The whistleblower hotline; or
- If the employer is a local government agency, the information must be disclosed to a chief executive officer of the agency or other appropriate local official.
It is important to note that an employee who makes protected disclosures but also participated in the unlawful activities, even at the direction of their superiors, is NOT protected under the Florida public whistleblower law.
Prohibited Employer Retaliation
Government employers and contractors are strictly prohibited from taking adverse employment actions against employees who engage in whistleblowing activities. Adverse employment actions include discipline, demotion, suspension, or termination. Employers who violate the Florida Public Whistleblower Act may face legal consequences, including penalties and the requirement to provide remedies to the affected employee.
Remedies and Relief for Public Whistleblowers
Public-sector whistleblowers in Florida may be entitled to various remedies and relief, including:
- 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.
Filing a Public Whistleblower Complaint in Florida
There are different processes for pursuing a Florida public whistleblower claim, depending on whether you are an employee of a state-level government agency or a local government agency. It is crucial for public employees to be aware of their corresponding process and deadlines when filing a complaint.
Florida state employees must file a whistleblower retaliation complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations within 60 days of 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 claim 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, 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.
Our experienced attorneys can help you navigate the filing process, ensure you meet all deadlines, and protect your rights during this critical time.
Federal Whistleblower Laws for Public Employees
Federal employees are protected under separate and distinct federal whistleblower laws, which are not covered by the Florida public whistleblower law. However, state and local government employees may also be protected under several federal laws that address a variety of violations of laws and regulations or wrongdoing.
How Yormak Employment and Disability Law Can Help
Our team at Yormak Employment and Disability Law is dedicated to providing expert legal guidance and representation to public employees in Florida who have chosen to stand up against wrongdoing. With our extensive knowledge of Florida employment and whistleblower laws, we can help you navigate the complex complaint process, protect your rights, and work tirelessly to hold employers accountable for their actions.
Real Cases We’ve Handled
School District Paid Over $700,000 in Settlements to Pell Grant Fund Whistleblowers
A Florida School District paid over $700,000 in settlements to two whistleblowers, who uncovered misuse of Pell Grant funds. Both employees faced non-renewal of their contracts after the investigation and filed lawsuits alleging violation of Florida’s Whistleblower Act.
Former Fire Chief Sues for Wrongful Termination After Whistleblower Lawsuit Alleging Misuse of CARES Act funds.
A former Southwest Florida Fire Chief filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging misuse of CARES Act funds. The Chief claims he was fired for raising concerns, which would be a violation of the federal False Claims Act and Florida’s Public Whistleblower Act.
Southwest Florida Whistleblower Sues for Wrongful Termination After Reporting Misused Federal Grant Funding
A former administrative assistant sued a local county and her former boss for wrongful termination after she reported corruption in the county’s economic incentive program. The employee had revealed the misuse of public grant money and openly testified about the loan program’s corruption during an audit. Despite facing retaliation and criticism for her cooperation with the auditor, she courageously fought back and sought compensatory and punitive damages for free speech violations and violations of Florida’s Public Whistleblower Act. The case was litigated for years, all the way through a successful appeal prosecuted by Benjamin Yormak.
Schedule a Free Consultation
Don’t delay in protecting your rights as a whistleblower. To schedule a free consultation with our experienced team, please contact Yormak Employment and Disability Law today.