The Florida Legislature concluded its annual legislative session on Saturday, May 4, 2019. Over 20 employment-related bills were introduced, covering subjects such as E-Verify, criminal background screening, discrimination and harassment, sexual misconduct reporting in health care, local regulation of employment conditions, minimum wage, vaping, paid leave, internship tax credits, restraints of trade or commerce (noncompete agreements), drug-free workplaces, and unemployment compensation claims. Although only two of these bills survived, many of the bills that did not pass could resurface and impact employers in the near future. The next legislative session convenes in Tallahassee, Florida on January 14, 2020.
Prohibition on Vaping in Enclosed Indoor Workplaces
The first of the two surviving bills, Senate Bill 7012, concerns vaping and has been signed into law. The law amends the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act to prohibit vaping in an enclosed indoor workplace. Importantly for employers, the amendments require the “person in charge of an enclosed indoor workplace to develop and implement a policy regarding specified smoking and vaping prohibitions.” The policy must specifically “prohibit an employee from smoking or vaping, or both, in the enclosed indoor workplace.”
Unemployment Benefits for Domestic Violence Survivors
If approved by the governor, the other surviving bill, House Bill 563, will aid domestic violence survivors in qualifying for unemployment compensation benefits and impose measures to ensure safer workplaces. This could have a huge impact in the state as, on average, more than 117,000 cases of domestic violence are reported each year in Florida and more than half of female domestic violence victims have been harassed by their partners at work.
Specifically, the bill proposes to add victims of domestic violence to those eligible to receive unemployment benefits (referred to as reemployment assistance in Florida). If signed into law, the law would take effect July 1, 2019, and would grant victims who voluntarily left their jobs as a direct result of circumstances related to domestic violence, as defined in Florida Statutes section 741.28, the right to receive unemployment compensation for up to 12 weeks.
To become eligible, victims would need to provide evidence that domestic violence has occurred, such as an injunction, a protective order, or other documentation authorized by state law. In addition, victims would be required to demonstrate that they made reasonable efforts to preserve their employment or that attempting to preserve their employment was likely to be futile or to increase the risk of future incidents of domestic violence. Such efforts include, but are not limited to, seeking a protective injunction, relocating to a secure place, and seeking a reasonable accommodation from his or her employer, such as a transfer to another location or change of assignment if possible. Finally, victims must reasonably believe that they are likely to be the victims of a future act of domestic violence at, in transit to, or departing from their place of employment. Importantly, an individual who is otherwise eligible for benefits “is ineligible for each week that he or she no longer meets the above criteria or refuses a reasonable accommodation offered in good faith by his or her [employer].”
The bill is expected to have minimal impact on private employers, as 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 the legislation. In other words, a domestic violence victim’s receipt of benefits will not directly adversely impact the employer’s future tax rate. In fact, in pitching the bill to the house committee, Representative Dotie Joseph stated, “It [will] cost practically nothing to fix a problem that will have a huge impact on those that need it.”