Unemployment Law Changes in Favor of Employers
On Monday, June 27, 2011, Florida’s Governor, Rick Scott signed into law significant amendments to Florida’s Unemployment Compensation Law, Chapter 443 of the Florida Statutes (the “Amended Law”). Many of the changes represent good news for employers.
Termination of an Employee for Misconduct
Prior to the amendments, an unemployment claimant generally would be disqualified from unemployment compensation benefits if the employer was able to demonstrate that the claimant engaged in misconduct. Misconduct generally included, but was not limited to, the following:
(a) Conduct demonstrating willful or wanton disregard of an employer’s interests and found to be a deliberate violation or disregard of the standards of behavior which the employer has a right to expect of his or her employee; or
(b) Carelessness or negligence to a degree or recurrence that manifests culpability, wrongful intent, or evil design or shows an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer’s interests or of the employee’s duties or obligations to his or her employer. § 443.036(30), Fla. Stat.
Under the Amended Law, misconduct may be found where a claimant demonstrates a “conscious disregard of a reasonable standard of behavior.” Misconduct may occur in connection with a job during both working and non-working hours and may include, for example:
- Chronic absenteeism or tardiness;
- Willful and deliberate violation of a state standard or regulation which would jeopardize the employer’s Florida license or certification; or
- Violation of an employer rule under certain circumstances.
The Amended Law no longer requires the claimant to have had an “evil design.” Moreover, recurrent negligence or carelessness that manifests “culpability or wrongful intent” may also be considered misconduct and result in the disqualification of benefits for the claimant. The new definition of misconduct is applicable for all terminations of employment on and after June 27, 2011.
Duration of Benefits
Under the Amended Law, Florida is the first state in the United States to tie unemployment benefits to the state’s unemployment rates. Currently, the maximum duration of unemployment compensation benefits is 26 weeks.
Under the Amended Law, the duration of benefits will range from 12 to 23 weeks based upon the average unemployment rate in Florida. The exact duration of benefits will be determined on a sliding scale basis. For example, when the average unemployment rate is 5% or less, the maximum duration of benefits is 12 weeks and when the average unemployment rate reaches at least 10.5% the maximum duration of benefits will be 23 weeks. Florida’s current unemployment rate is 10.6%.
Effective July 1, 2011, individuals who file claims on or after July 1, 2011 will have the option to receive payments by direct deposit or debit card.
Effective August 1, 2011, claimants who receive severance pay equal to or greater than the claimant’s weekly benefit amount will not be entitled to unemployment compensation for the week(s) during which he/she receives severance pay.
Effective August 1, 2011, claimants will be required to file all claims through the internet. The work search requirements have become more stringent as well. Claimants will be required to contact at least 5 potential employers each week and will be required to undergo an online skills review and assessment.
Effective August 1, 2011, the Amended Law specifically excludes incarcerated claimants from eligibility for unemployment compensation.
The Schwarzberg & Associates Employment Law and Compliance Team has extensive experience in developing effective policies, procedures and proactive responsive measures to deal with a myriad of workplace issues. Please do not hesitate to contact one of our members; Steve Schwarzberg or Lisa Kohring at (561) 659-3300 to obtain more information about our firm and its various employment law compliance and defense services.