I recently received a phone call from a client, a business owner, who did not understand why a former employee, terminated for poor performance within weeks of hire, had been awarded unemployment compensation benefits. After all, the termination occurred during the employee’s probationary period. My client was focused on the award of benefits when he should have focused on chargeability. Under section 443.131(3)(a)2, Florida Statutes, an employee terminated during a qualified probationary period is entitled to benefits if otherwise eligible; but the benefits are not chargeable to the employer. Indeed, when I asked him to re-read the determination notice, he was relieved to find it confirmed the benefits were awarded but not charged to his account.

This summer, Florida added another circumstance where an employer is not charged for a former employee’s benefits. Effective July 1, Florida became the 42nd state to allow domestic violence victims to collect unemployment compensation when they are forced to quit their job or relocate to avoid an abusive situation. Previously, they were denied benefits based on their voluntary resignation. Now, Section 443.101(1)(a) 2.c., F.S. provides:

    An individual is not disqualified under this subsection for … Voluntarily leaving work if he or she proves that his or her discontinued employment is a direct result of circumstances related to domestic violence as defined in s. 741.28. An individual who voluntarily leaves work under this sub-subparagraph must:

    (I) Make reasonable efforts to preserve employment, unless the individual establishes that such remedies are likely to be futile or to increase the risk of future incidents of domestic violence. Such efforts may include seeking a protective injunction, relocating to a secure place, or seeking reasonable accommodation from the employment unit, such as a transfer or change of assignment;

    (II) Provide evidence such as an injunction, a protective order, or other documentation authorized by state law which reasonably proves that domestic violence has occurred; and

    (III) Reasonably believe that he or she is likely to be the victim or a future act of domestic violation at, in transit to, or departing from his or her place of employment. An individual who is otherwise eligible for benefits under this sub-subparagraph is ineligible for each week that he or she no longer meets such criteria or refuses a reasonable accommodation offered in good faith by his or her employing unit.

Section 443.101(1)(a)3 further provides: “The employment record of an employing unit may not be charged for the payment of benefits to an individual who has voluntarily left work under sub-subparagraph 2.c.”

The new law recognizes the forced nature of the employee’s “voluntary” decision to resign or relocate. Rather than place the cost on innocent individual employers, the cost is apportioned across all employers—public and private. As Florida House of Representatives staff estimated few such claims and an annual cost of only $140,000, it is hard to understand why we waited so long to provide this limited but important relief.