Florida Whistleblower Act: Protection for Employees

Do you need to blow the whistle on illegal conditions or actions by an employer? Do you know what protections you have or what to expect? If you don’t, you may need the help of a whistleblower lawyer.

Before you blow the whistle, it can help you to understand the Florida laws that are involved. In this guide, you will learn what whistleblowing is and two main pieces of legislation that protect whistleblowers. 

You’ll also learn what to expect when you blow the whistle, how you’re protected, and what to do if you face retaliation.

Laws that Protect Whistleblowers

Whistleblowers are part of the American Tradition and Congress, the state legislatures, and the courts have enacted laws or legal precedents that protect them.

Why are whistleblowers so important? They speak out and challenge practices that are fundamentally wrong when others would be silent. Thinking back to the origins of the republic, whistleblowers orchestrated the Boston Tea Party. They challenged segregated schools and the doctrine of separate but equal and other discriminatory practices – once accepted – but that are now proscribed by law.

Whistleblowers were and are the forefront of exposing corporate fraud including the Enron scandal and whistleblowers have spoken out about illegal marketing practices in the pharmaceutical industry. The truth is that for every law that has made America a safer place, there is no doubt that a whistleblower spoke out about practices that lead to legislation.

That is why laws like the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the National Labor Relations Act all have provisions that protect whistleblowers from retaliation. It is why many state courts have created or adopted the doctrine of “discharge in violation of public policy” which allows – under certain circumstances – those who have been terminated because they spoke out – a right of action in court.

And some statutes – like state and federal false claims acts – even provide whistleblowers with a bounty – or portion of the recovery – if they bring a suit that results in returning money to the government.

And so if you decide to become a whistleblower, you should keep in mind that you are part of a proud American tradition.

Violating the False Claims Act: Penalties

The False Claims Act of 1863, 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729-3733, also known as the “Abraham Lincoln Law,” is one of the federal government’s most powerful weapons against fraud. Although meant for both civil and criminal proceedings, the civil application of the Act is the primary means of federal action and is now most heavily used in the growing area of health care fraud, followed by procurement fraud and other types of fraud in a diversity of arenas.

The False Claims Act provides that any person who knowingly submits a false claim for payment to the government is liable for the government’s damages, as well as additional monetary penalties. False claims typically include unlawful requests for government money such as overbilling government funded programs, misrepresenting the amount of a product delivered, underrepresenting an obligation to pay the government, or billing government funded programs for services never rendered.

While the government itself is the real injured party in a False Claims Act suit, the person who discovers that fraudulent behavior, known as a whistleblower or relator, brings the suit on behalf of the government and may receive up to 30% of the government’s award if the suit is successful.

When the act was originally enacted in 1863 violators of the act were liable to pay double the government’s damages plus a $2000 penalty for each claim. In 2019 the Department of Justice recovered over $3 billion in fraud and False Claims Act cases. For someone considering filing a False Claims Act lawsuit, understanding how the penalties work will help to understand what the potential whistleblower portion of the payout would be.

The False Claims Act

The False Claims Act (FCA) is the federal law that criminalizes the submission of false claims by organizations that accept cash or services from federal programs. It covers most types of false claims, including falsified records, inflated invoices and the misrepresentation of eligibility information. It is one of the US government’s most effective tools against large-scale fraud.

One feature of the Act that makes it particularly effective is the qui tam provision that incentives and rewards whistleblowers.

Qui Tam Lawsuits: What a Whistleblower Needs to Know

A qui tam lawsuit is a type of lawsuit that is brought by a whistleblower on behalf of the government. In cases where the government has been defrauded of funds, a qui tam provision allows anyone with knowledge or evidence of the fraud to file. In return for their service, the law allocates them a share of the funds that are recovered.

Qui tam provisions are relatively rare in US laws. The most prominent and most frequently used qui tam provision is the one that is found in the False Claims Act.

The False Claims Act is a piece of legislation that dates back more than 100 years. It criminalizes the submission of false reports, records, and claims to certain federal programs, and includes a qui tam provision so that whistleblowers may act to seek the recovery of stolen funds when the criminal fraud is committed.  

The False Claims Act is frequently used in cases where the defendant is accused of fraud against Medicare, Medicaid and other public programs that are directly funded by the US government.