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MIAMI-DADE COUNTY'S EMPLOYEE PROTECTION ORDINANCE
On October 20, 2015, the Employee Protection Ordinance (EPO), also known as the “Whistleblower” ordinance, was amended by the Board of County Commissioners. It was amended to empower employees to take responsibility for an efficient and effective government and to be empowered to safely and securely disclose activity that constitutes misconduct. This memorandum will provide clarification regarding employees’ rights under the ordinance and will highlight the changes in law.
Why was the Employee Protection Ordinance enacted, what is the intent, and how was it amended?
The EPO was initially enacted to provide protections for employees who came forward and reported misconduct they observed in County Government. The initial ordinance was modeled, in part, on the State’s Whistleblower law. The recent amendments, which became effective on October 20, 2015, further simplify how and where to report and clarify the afforded protections.
Who should the misconduct be reported to?
Prior to the October 20 amendments, the misconduct had to be reported to either the Office of the Inspector General or the Mayor or his designee. The only exception was that misconduct at the Miami-Dade Aviation Department was to be reported to either the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) or the Commission on Ethics (COE).
The EPO was amended so that all County employees, regardless of their department, can now report misconduct to the OIG, COE or to the Mayor or his designee without losing the protections provided under the ordinance. A section was also added that provides that the COE or the Mayor or his designee, at their discretion, may refer appropriate complaints to the OIG for investigation.
Does the EPO provide protections to employees regardless of the type of misconduct reported?
No, an employee only receives protections provided under this ordinance if the nature of the misconduct is a violation of law or rule that creates a substantial and specific danger to the public’s health, safety, or welfare; or involves gross mismanagement, malfeasance, misfeasance, gross waste of public funds, or gross neglect of duty. This section of the ordinance was not amended.
What are some examples of the types of misconduct employees should report to the OIG, COE or Mayor under the Ordinance?
Contractor overbilling, payroll fraud, bid rigging, kickback schemes, bid steering, bribery, theft, gross mismanagement of a program that puts others at risk, fraud or cover-ups by employees or contractors that endanger the public. Generally, employee grievances involving personnel matters do not fall into the protected category under the EPO and should be handled through the County’s grievance procedures.
How should an employee report?
Employees disclosing information to the Mayor, his designee, or the COE need to report in a written and signed complaint to receive the protections afforded by the EPO. The amendment passed on October 20, 2015, allows for additional methods of disclosure/reporting to the OIG. Employees can now disclose/report to the OIG in a variety of ways and still be protected. They can disclose to the OIG through our hotline (305) 570-2593), email, OIG website (www.miamidadeig.org), in person to OIG staff or by written and signed correspondence.
When an employee reports/discloses information regarding misconduct to the appropriate entity, what protections are provided the employee?
CONFIDENTIALITY: The most important protection provided to the employee under the ordinance (based on state law) is that they can report the information confidentially, i.e., their identity will not be revealed during or subsequent to the investigation. The only exception is in the event criminal charges are filed, then the decision regarding confidentiality will be at the discretion of the State Attorney’s Office and/or a judge.
PROTECTION FROM RETALIATION: In the event the identity of the complainant is known or discovered, and the complainant feels they are being retaliated against because they have disclosed the misconduct, then they may file for protection with the Administration through the grievance process and if unsatisfied, they may file a complaint with the COE and ask the COE, as an independent body to investigate their retaliation complaint.
What happens if an employee makes a false complaint alleging misconduct by another employee?
The ordinance was amended to put employees on notice that providing false information will be taken seriously and investigated and prosecuted where appropriate. Additionally, an employee who is involved in the misconduct does not receive the protections provided to others under the ordinance.
Were there any other amendments to the EPO that employees should be aware of?
The awards provision was deleted.
Where do I go if I have questions regarding the EPO and the new amendments?
The ordinance was amended to ensure that employees receive information regarding their protections. The amendment mandates the OIG to provide training. The COE and the Administration may also provide information regarding the ordinance. You can contact the OIG at 305-375-1946; or the COE at 305-579-2594 or www.miamidade.gov/ethics; or the Employee Relations Department at 305-375-4171.