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.

Monday, October 12, 2015

It's Time To Revamp Florida's Unemployment System

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.


  1. I am missing your amazing insights and it's always good to pop over here.

  2. As a "less than 50" family-owned employer, I resent your categorical characterization of Florida employers. We faithfully pay into the UI system, we rarely terminate employees, and as a matter of fact, if an employee quits and files a UI claim, we rarely contest it, which is more than fair. It is our understanding that it doesn't matter what disciplinary records the employer keeps, the unemployed still receives benefits and our rates increase, too. Not only that, but as a Florida employer who has paid into the system for decades with very few claims - where does that money go if it is isn't being dispensed? We have paid for each of our employees 10-times over already and they still work here! The system should be flush with funds to cover terminations under any circumstances. If your beef is with Tallahassee, keep the private sector out of it, please. And, in case you haven't noticed, nobody wants to work anyway - we can't get more than two responses [literally] to our want ads and our entry level pay rate is above minimum wage. So it appears that the problem lies somewhere with the government, its programs, and the beneficiaries...hmmm.

  3. You GO, Donna!

    I lived the nightmare with the scofflaw employer. In only 15 months, my boss had more moves than a chess player.

    We had a staff of only 14. 5 employees quit, 3 were fired and 9 were hired (2 of those were fired & 2 quit within those 15 months...4 of the 9 were hired within the last one month). Can you say WAY TOO MUCH for one small employer?????

    I was the downtrodden Office Manager he hired but refused to listen to ("It's my company. Nobody tells me what to do") and eventually got the boot because "we have different opinions". Unbelievable but true, here in the at-will state of California! I hear Homer Simpson saying "DOH" in my head...

    Keep up your insightful, dead-on and witty posts. Hopefully common sense will one day prevail.


I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.