Florida Governor DeSantis Signs Bill for Unemployment Benefits for Victims of Domestic Violence
Florida law provides for unemployment compensation–known as “reemployment assistance”–for workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. Typically, employees who voluntarily leave their position are not qualified to receive these benefits. However, there are some exceptions, such as a person who quits their job to relocate with a spouse in the military and as of law signed in June 2019, now too for domestic violence victims.
On June 7, 2019, Governor DeSantis signed House Bill 563 , which will allow workers to claim unemployment benefits if they are forced to leave their job due to domestic violence. This new law puts Florida in line with more than 40 other states and territories that currently afford workers such protections.
Florida law already defines “domestic violence” to include “any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member.” A victim of domestic violence may include a spouse, ex-spouse, unmarried parents of a common child, or anyone who has lived together now or in the past.
Florida Statute 443.101 is now amended to include that if an employee can prove their decision to quit their job was the “direct result of circumstances related to domestic violence,” they remain eligible for reemployment assistance benefits. However, there are several caveats:
The worker must prove they made “reasonable efforts to preserve employment,” such as asking for a transfer or relocating to a “secure place.”
The worker must prove domestic violence actually occurred; this can be done by presenting the employer with a protective order or similar domestic violence injunction.
The worker must demonstrate a “reasonable belief” that they are “likely to be the victim of a future act of domestic violence” while commuting to or from their job; the employee is not eligible for unemployment benefits during any week that they “no longer meet” this criteria or the employer offers a “reasonable accommodation” to address the employee’s safety concerns.
Legislation Expected to Have Minimal Financial Impact on State, Private Businesses
According to a legislative analysis prepared by the staff of the Florida House of Representatives, other states that currently permit domestic violence victims to collect unemployment benefits have “reported consistently low participation.” For instance, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts “reported a total of 189 domestic violence claims” in a given year versus 320,000 “traditional unemployment claims.” Similarly, Texas only paid out 63 domestic violence-related unemployment claims in a particular year, which had an “imperceptible” impact on the tax rates by the state’s employers.
Under Florida’s current reemployment assistance program, the House staff estimated a similar number of claims here would cost about $140,000, which would be shared among all private and public employers who pay into the system.
Florida Statute 443.101 provisions take effect on July 1, 2019. If you are an employer or employee who has additional questions about how this new law affects you, contact a qualified Florida employment law attorney as soon as possible.