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Florida’s whistle-blower law doesn’t cover report of co-worker assault

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in Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

Florida’s Whistleblower Act protects employees from retaliation for bringing wrongdoing to the proper authorities’ attention. But the law covers only illegal activities that are purposely committed for the employer’s benefit.

So, you’re not liable for retaliation in cases of “generic” wrongdoing, such as an employee reporting a co-worker’s assault.

Recent case: Carla Ruiz claimed her employer, Aeropostal, terminated her because she’d called police after her supervisor pushed her against a counter. The supervisor allegedly threatened her after she complained to HR about the incident. Ruiz sued, alleging Aeropostal fired her in retaliation for making a whistle-blower complaint to the police.

The Court of Appeals of Florida dismissed her case, reasoning that, at most, she had a workers’ compensation claim against her employer. The state’s whistle-blower law covers retaliation only for reporting company wrongdoing, not a tort committed by a supervisor outside the course and scope of employment. (Ruiz, et al., v. Aerorep Group, Court of Appeals of Florida, 2006)

Final note: The case leaves open whether the Florida Whistleblower Act would apply if a supervisor committed the tort of false imprisonment: for example, by locking employees inside to work off the clock. In that case, he would be committing the tort presumably for the employer’s benefit.  

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