In an excellent piece by Marcia Heroux-Pounds of the Sun-Sentinel, the severe deficiencies of Florida's unemployment system are exposed. Bottom line is that our lovely governor and his friends in the legislature have made it almost impossible for people who have lost their jobs to collect unemployment. If they do collect, they are put through hell, and then the government tries to screw them out of their money by demanding it back.
As a taxpayer, I have to ask: why are we allowing our state government to torture people who have lost their jobs? We have a ridiculously low maximum weekly rate of $275, which is barely grocery money for many people with kids. We max out at 14 weeks, when most states give benefits for 26 weeks. We make these folks who have lost their jobs, which is as traumatic as losing a loved one, jump through hoop after hoop for this piddly amount of money. And we're finding more and more ways to justify excluding them from the system by blaming them for their unemployment.
This affects Florida taxpayers directly in the wallet. Unemployment is essentially an insurance policy that employers pay for each employee as part of their payroll. That means every single Florida employee should be protected. By denying these benefits, we end up forcing the unemployed onto food stamps, welfare, and other taxpayer-supported benefits.
I think it's time to turn the tables. We have at-will employment in Florida, like 48 other states (Montana is the only state without at-will employment). That means employers can fire employees because they are in a bad mood, didn't like the employee's shirt, or for no reason at all. While many states have exceptions to the at-will doctrine, like violations of public policy, implied contract, and violating the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in an employment relationship, Florida has none of these.
So we, as taxpayers, are footing the bill for employers who make arbitrary employment decisions. Why not make employers who fire employees without just cause pay for their arbitrariness? Why not lift the maximum rate employers can be charged to these arbitrary employers? Why skew the system to punish employees but not employers?
Here are some things we could demand, as voters, to change the system:
Raise the rates: If employers are found to have abused the system by firing an employee without cause, raise their unemployment rate to cover 100% of the unemployment compensation payments being made for that employee, minus any payments they already made into the system for unemployment compensation. Employees who abuse the system have to repay. Why not employers?
Ban scofflaws from hiring: Employees who owe repayments to unemployment are barred from applying again until they have repaid in full. If employers fail to make the payments for their arbitrary firings, ban them from hiring new employees until they are caught up in payments. Why should they be allowed to continue their arbitrary practices without paying the piper?
Mandatory training: Employees who apply for unemployment have to jump through hoop after hoop to get unemployment. Employers who are found to have fired without just cause should have to take mandatory training, which could be done online, on employee management, progressive discipline and what constitutes just cause for firing.
I don't know about you, but I'm sick of my tax dollars supporting employers who have huge turnover due to at-will employment. It's time to make employers pay if they don't treat employees with a reasonable level of fairness.
Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.