Recent Changes to Florida’s Unemployment Compensation Statute
If an employee is terminated from work, that employee has the right to apply for unemployment compensation benefits. If the employee is terminated as a result of a lay-off or reduction-in-force, then the employee will likely receive unemployment compensation benefits assuming they are looking for work but have not found work after their termination. However, if an employee is terminated because of alleged misconduct, then the employer has the burden of proving to the unemployment compensation office that that employee engaged in misconduct disqualifying him or her from receipt of unemployment benefits.
Acts of misconduct which ordinarily disqualify an employee from receipt of unemployment compensation benefits include, but are not limited to, theft of company property, assault and/or battery at work, or unlawful drug use at work. Until last year, employers had to prove that the employee engaged in “gross acts of misconduct” in order to disqualify the employee from receipt of unemployment compensation benefits. That has changed.
In 2011, Florida Governor, Rick Scott, signed new unemployment compensation laws expanding the definition of misconduct and adding additional requirements that employees must meet to be eligible for unemployment compensation benefits. Florida’s unemployment compensation office now defines misconduct as, “any action that demonstrates conscious disregard of an employer’s interests and is found to be a deliberate disregard or violation of reasonable standards of behavior, and may include activities that did not occur at the workplace or during working hours.” This new definition now includes as “misconduct” activities that occur during an employee’s personal time outside of work (e.g., a conviction for driving their personal vehicle under the influence while not a work). The new law also makes it easier for employers to prove misconduct by lowering the standard from “willful and wanton disregard” of an employer’s interests to “conscious disregard of an employer’s interest.”
The definition also includes as misconduct: Chronic absenteeism or tardiness, willful and deliberate violation of a state standard or regulation which would jeopardize the employer’s Florida license or certification, and violation of an employer’s rules under certain circumstances. Additional changes include a requirement that employees file their claims for unemployment benefits on-line which is not always easy for the working poor to do. In addition, employees are required to search for work by contacting at least five potential employers weekly and to provide records of such contact on-line during their bi-weekly certification of benefits. Unlike before, severance pay is now considered disqualifying income if the claimant’s severance pay per week is equal to or greater than his or her weekly benefit amount. Furthermore, if an employee is receiving severance pay while also receiving unemployment benefits, then that employee may be subject to criminal prosecution. Finally, the duration of benefits for new claims has been cut from 26 weeks to a range of 12 to 23 weeks. These changes have made qualification for unemployment benefits much more difficult. Employers are given more leeway to terminate employees and challenge their application for unemployment benefits.
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