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How not to handle a whistle-blower’s complaint: Threaten to kill employees who report you

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

The Florida’s Private-Sector Whistleblower Act protects employees who report alleged wrongdoing to their employers. Ignoring the complaint—or worse, threatening discipline, job loss or anything else that could be viewed as retaliation—will land you in court in no time flat.

Recent case: Marcos Cernada worked for El Toro Exterminator for four years as the service operations manager. He reported directly to one of the owners.

El Toro won a contract with Miami-Dade County to keep the bus fleet bug-free. The contract specified that some chemicals considered particularly toxic could not be used. A product called “Demon” was among the prohibited chemicals.

Cernada complained when one of the owners ordered him to secretly use Demon. The company told Cernada to forgo protective gear so the county wouldn’t get suspicious.

Cernada complied, but kept complaining to the owners. Finally, he met with the county’s pest-control manager and told him everything. Cernada quit when one of the owners threatened his life.

Cernada sued, and a jury concluded El Toro was guilty of retaliation and negligent supervision. A Florida appeals court upheld the decision. (El Toro Exterminator of Florida v. Cernada, No. 3D05-2636, Court of Appeals of Florida, 2007)

Final note: Although Florida’s Whistleblower Act says an employee must notify his employer in writing, the court ignored that requirement in this case.  

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