The federal government joins forces with state agencies to provide unemployment benefits to eligible workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own. This program is funded through tax collected from employers based on employee wages. Employers pay unemployment tax directly to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Florida Department of Revenue (DOR). This obligation is not levied towards independent contractors.
Florida operates its own unemployment compensation program, which processes employee claims through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). Claims for reemployment assistance benefits are submitted as directed by the Florida Reemployment Assistance Program Law, which provides temporary financial assistance to help eligible workers through a transition period to a new job.
Unemployment Benefits Eligibility
There are three eligibility requirements for an employee to collect unemployment in Florida:
- The employee’s past earnings must meet certain minimum thresholds. This past earnings’ “base period” is the earliest four of the five complete calendar quarters before the employee files the claim. Among other requirements, the employee must have earned a minimum of $3,400 during the entire base period.
- The employee must be unemployed through no fault of his or her own. For example, employees who quit their job, or those who are fired due to misconduct generally do not qualify. Employees who are laid off or are part of a reduction in force will qualify.
- The employee must be able, available, and actively looking for work. The employee must keep job search records and be willing to accept a suitable job offer when presented.
Florida calculates the employer’s unemployment pay by dividing their total earnings for the highest paid quarter of the base period by 26. The pay has a maximum cap of $275 per week for up to 12 weeks.
Filing and Managing a Claim for Unemployment Benefits
A former employee can file a claim for unemployment benefits online with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), after registration. (They can also file offline with some exceptions.) The claimant will receive written feedback from DEO indicating whether he or she has met the preliminary requirements to receive benefits and if so, it will assign a claim adjuster to further qualify the applicant and determine the appropriate amount of unemployment pay.
Appeals and Disputes
A claimant may appeal within 20 days from the date the decision was made. Upon receipt of the appeal, a telephone hearing will be scheduled and a referee will make a recommendation based on the information gathered at the hearing. The claimant may appeal the decision of the referee to the Unemployment Appeals Commission within 20 days from the referee’s decision. The Commission will then issue a final order.
Similarly, employers can, directly or through a representative, file an appeal, protest benefit charges, access or send correspondence, and manage short-term compensation benefits with the Florida DOR via an online system and follow an administrative process.
If a qualified party disputes the Commission’s decision, the DEO will hold a hearing to address the dispute. An assigned hearing officer will preside the hearing and issue a recommended order. The DEO’s executive director (or his or her designee) will issue a final order adopting, modifying or rejecting the recommended order.
After exhausting the administrative process, a party can file suit in the Florida District Court of Appeal.
An employer’s response to the notice of claim must be filed within 20 days of the mailing date of the notice of claim. Not responding timely may result in the employer’s account being charged for benefits to the former employee, even if the former employee did not qualify for the benefits.
If an employer has not reported a claimant as an “employee” on the Employer’s Quarterly Report, Form RT-6, the DOR will investigate the relationship between the worker and the business. The agency will also launch an investigation when the employer has been reported for noncompliance, or simply as part of the employee’s claim for benefits. Under state law, an employer’s intentional misclassification of a worker is a felony.
When faced with an unemployment claim and/or investigation, employers may benefit from the assistance of knowledgeable legal counsel through the process, including the evaluation of whether they should contest a claim, as the employer’s practices beyond unemployment benefits may be scrutinized during an investigation process (e.g., employer’s compliance with employee notice requirements, whether the employer misclassified absences that should have been excused, employer’s compliance with anti-discrimination laws, etc.) Former workers may also benefit from legal assistance when filing a claim, during hearings, if their claim has been denied, or when they face other issues resulting from their filing for unemployment benefits, such as employer retaliation.
Whether you are an employer, employee, or independent contractor, the Orlando employment law attorneys of Burruezo & Burruezo can assist you in assessing an unemployment claim or investigation situation and offer competent legal representation, if necessary. Click here to contact an attorney now.
 See Independent Contractor or Employee? (Parts 1-4) blog articles for more information about the classification of employee vs. independent contractor.