Florida’s Unemployment Compensation Law now has a broader definition of misconduct which will result in more employees being held ineligible for benefits based on the reason for their termination. As an employer, you need to be familiar with this change so that you can adjust your HR policies accordingly, and make an informed decision whether to contest a former employee’s application for benefits.

In general, an individual is entitled to benefits if they are laid off, terminated without cause, fired for poor performance, or resign with “good cause attributable to the employer” (i.e. if conditions at work are so bad that any reasonable person would feel they had no alternative but to resign). Individuals are ineligible for benefits if they are terminated for misconduct. Conduct which results in termination “for cause” under a company’s internal policies, however, does not always equate to conduct that is considered “misconduct” under the unemployment compensation law. That definition has now been expanded to include conduct that would not previously have resulted in a denial of benefits.

Under the new law, misconduct is defined 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 change broadens misconduct and makes it easier for an employer to deny benefits. Misconduct now includes violation of an employer’s policy that affects behavior outside the workplace (such as a rule prohibiting employees from making negative statements about the company on an employee’s personal facebook page).

The best practice is to review your current policies, and make sure you are providing written warnings for violations that would qualify as misconduct if repeated.

Other changes in the law, which primarily affect the procedures for claimants seeking benefits, include the following:

  • Benefit Payments: New claims must be paid by either the Florida Unemployment Compensation Debit Card or by direct deposit to the Claimant’s bank account (i.e. paper checks will no longer be used to pay benefits).
  • Online Filing and Certification of Weeks: All claims must now be filed electronically, and continuing claims must be updated electronically. The unemployment hotline is still available to answer questions about filings.
  • Work Search: Claimants are required on a weekly basis to contact five potential employers and provide this information via the Internet during their bi-weekly certification for benefits. You can use the Employ Florida Marketplace website (employflorida.com) to search thousands of postings and apply for jobs. If you are unable to make at least five employment contacts in a week, meeting with a representative at a local One-Stop Career Center for reemployment services can satisfy the requirement for that week.
  • Skills Review: Claimants must now complete an initial skills review over the Internet. The result of the review will be used by local One-Stop Career Centers to assist claimants with job searches.
  • Severance Pay: If a claimant’s severance pay per week is equal to or greater than the claimant’s weekly benefit amount, the claimant is not entitled to benefits for that week. Severance pay does not impact the total amount of benefits that can be paid on the claim.
  • Duration of Benefits: Effective January 1, 2012, The duration of benefits adjusts from the current maximum of 26 weeks to a range from 12 to 23 weeks, based upon the average unemployment rate in Florida for the third calendar quarter of the previous year. For example, the maximum number of weeks for 2012 will be based on the average unemployment rate in Florida for July, August and September 2011. When the average unemployment rate is 5 percent or less, the maximum duration of benefits will be 12 weeks. For each half-percent increase in the average unemployment, an additional week will be added to the calculation of the benefit duration beginning January 1 of the following calendar year. Should the average unemployment rate reach 10.5 percent or higher, a maximum of 23 weeks would be payable on a claim established during the following calendar year.