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Whistleblower Act doesn’t always require providing written notice to employer

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in Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

The Florida Whistleblower Act (FWA) protects employees who shed light on the illegal acts their employers engage in. Employees can’t be punished for reporting on such activities.

Under most circumstances, if the employee is going to disclose an alleged employer violation of a law or a rule, the employer must get written notice. The employer then has a chance to fix the problem.

But that’s not true in every case. If the employee is going to give information to a government agency during the course of an official investigation, no notice is required.

That may seem like a fine line, but consider the example in the following case.

Recent case: Madda Douberley worked as a cook at a Florida Burger King and claimed her co-worker sexually harassed her. Douberley received no help from management, and therefore went to the police.

That’s when things got really sticky: Douberley said another employee threatened her with a knife because she was stirring up trouble. She was transferred, but claimed management threatened to fire her for going to the police.

She sued, alleging retaliation for whistle-blowing. Burger King said it never got a written complaint from Douberley, and therefore she wasn’t protected by the FWA.

Not so, concluded the court. Cooperating with the police is a protected activity, and retaliation for doing so is illegal whether or not the employer received written notice before the employee went to the police. (Douberley v. Burger King Corporation, No. 8:06-CV-1844, MD FL, 2007)

Bottom line: Don’t punish an employee for reporting a possible crime to authorities—whether or not that employee gave you written notice before talking to law enforcement. The employee is protected by the FWA. 

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