This article is intended to give a very basic overview of Florida's Unemployment Compensation Law and eligibility for benefits of those who have been separated from their employment.
Qualifying for U/C Benefits
Any individual who is currently unemployed or partially unemployed can file a claim. The unemployed individual may be eligible for benefits if: (1) s/he has had sufficient work and earnings in Florida to establish a monetarily eligible claim, and (2) the unemployed individual (a) has not voluntarily left his/her work without good cause attributable to his/her employing unit or (b) has not been discharged by his or her employing unit for misconduct connected with his/her work. These determinations will be made by the Agency for Workforce Innovation. Despite the above, in order to qualify for benefits, the unemployed individual must be "able to work," meaning physically and mentally capable of performing the duties of the occupation in which work is being sought, and "available for work," meaning actively seeking and being ready and willing to accept suitable employment. Thus, for example, if the unemployed individual has a "no work" restriction from a doctor, then s/he cannot be eligible for U/C benefits.
"Misconduct" as a Basis to Deny Benefits
By statute, "misconduct" includes, but is not limited to: (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 and obligations to his or her employer.
Examples of "Misconduct"
Examples of employee misconduct include: getting caught stealing from the employer; altering attendance records to show that the employee was at work when s/he had not been; and listing information on an employment application that the employee knew was false. In cases that are not so obvious, a relevant factor will be if the evidence demonstrates that the discharged employee repeatedly violated explicit employer policies after several warnings. One example would be repeated instances of tardiness or "no call/no shows." On the other hand, isolated instances of poor judgment are usually not considered "misconduct" for purposes of entitlement to U/C benefits. For example, an employee's failure to correct her timecard was not grounds to deny benefits (even though she remained fired).
Employers Cannot Make Employees Waive Future U/C Entitlement
Any agreement by an individual to waive, release, or commute her or his rights to U/C benefits or any other rights under the U/C statute is void. Any agreement by an individual to pay any portion of his/her employer's contributions, reimbursements, interest, penalties, fines, or fees required under the U/C law from the employer is void. An employer may not directly or indirectly make or require or accept any deduction from wages to finance the employer's contributions, reimbursements, etc., required from it, or require or accept any waiver of any right under the U/C law by any individual in its employ. Any employer who violates the above has committed a misdemeanor of the second degree.
Unemployment Hearings and Appeals
Once a determination on entitlement to benefits has been made by the Agency after the initial application, both the employer and the employee have the opportunity to appeal any adverse decision. (The deadline to file the notice of intent to appeal and the procedure for doing so will be clearly spelled out in the determination letter. Remember to follow the deadlines carefully!) If appealed, the Agency will set a hearing that will be conducted by telephone. Both the employer and the employee are allowed to (but are not required to) have an attorney present. This hearing will be recorded, and a formal ruling letter will be issued shortly afterwards. Again, both sides have the opportunity to appeal an adverse ruling. This appeal goes up to the Unemployment Appeals Commission, and it is a paper review (meaning no new hearing and no new evidence, just a review of what took place before the Agency to look for error). Once again, both sides have the opportunity to appeal an adverse ruling. This time, the appeal would go to one of Florida's five District Courts of Appeal (DCAs). Except under rare circumstances, this would be the end of the appellate process.
This article it is not intended to guide the reader through the claim process, nor does it cover every aspect of the law or every exception to any stated rule. The reader should not rely on this article as legal advice and should not take (or refrain from taking) any steps solely in reliance on anything in this article. If you, the reader, whether an employer or an employee, have any
questions about an individual's possible entitlement to U/C benefits, please contact us
Kenneth B. Schwartz, Esq., handles litigation, trials, and appeals of business and employment matters, including contract disputes, enforcement of noncompete and trade secret agreements, allegations of wrongful termination and discrimination, workers' compensation claims, unemployment compensation claims, Rule Nisi enforcement proceedings, resolution of stop-work orders and premium disputes, and construction defect litigation.