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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Can Florida Employees Can Be Fired For Testifying Against Employers?

 Florida has a statute that was clearly intended to protect employees who testify against employers: 

92.57 Termination of employment of witness prohibited.—A person who testifies in a judicial proceeding in response to a subpoena may not be dismissed from employment because of the nature of the person s testimony or because of absences from employment resulting from compliance with the subpoena. In any civil action arising out of a violation of this section, the court may award attorney s fees and punitive damages to the person unlawfully dismissed, in addition to actual damages suffered by such person.

Every lawyer I knew in Florida for 35 years has thought this protected witnesses who testified in depositions under subpoena. But a Florida appeals court ruled this year that a deposition is not a "judicial proceeding" and thus employees can be fired for testifying against their employers.

So is that it? Can employers retaliate against employees for testifying against them, even if they are subpoenaed to do so?

Not so fast, evil employers. Because employees are still protected under several anti-retaliation statutes. First, if they are testifying about race, age, sex, national origin, religious, disability or other illegal discrimination or discriminatory harassment, they are protected under anti-retaliation provisions of Title VII, the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and/or the Florida Civil Rights Act.

Second, the Florida Whistleblower Act protects employees who are fired for objecting to or refusing to participate in illegal activity of their employer. So if you are called to testify, make sure you say you object to whatever it is that they did that was a violation of a statute, government regulation, or ordinance. This also includes discrimination, but covers a myriad of other legal violations. Unfortunately, if it's just something like a breach of contract or other common law violation, you aren't protected under this statute.

There are lots of whistleblower laws out there, so if you are called to testify in a deposition and your testimony will hurt your employer, you will want to get some legal advice as to how to protect yourself before you go.

And the Florida legislature needs to fix this statute, because firing someone who is subpoenaed should be illegal, whether for a deposition or an actual court hearing.

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I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.