May 21, 2019

May 21, 2019

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May 20, 2019

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Florida’s 2019 Legislative Session Yields Bills Related to Vaping in the Workplace and Unemployment Benefits for Domestic Violence Victims

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.”

© 2019, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., All Rights Reserved.

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Dee Anna began her career in the labor and employment law field and continues to focus her practice on representing management in all aspects of labor and employment law compliance. She enjoys counseling clients to solve tough issues and enthusiastically defends them when necessary. Dee Anna has defended management in both federal and state courts, before numerous government agencies -- including the DOL, EEOC, NLRB, OSHA, FCHR, and OFCCP -- and has represented employers in audits performed by the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, OFCCP, and OSHA.

On a regular basis, Dee...

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Sara G. Sanfilippo Lawyer Ogletree Deakins Tampa Labor Employment
Associate

Sara focuses her practice on defending labor and employment law matters involving wage and hour claims, discrimination, harassment and wrongful discharge in state and federal courts and before administrative agencies. She also advises and counsels employers on best practices and policies.

Sara received her B.A., cum laude, from the University of Florida in 2011, after completing her studies in three years. She received her J.D., magna cum laude, from the University of Florida, Levin College of Law in 2014, where she graduated in the top three percent of her class and was elected to the Order of the Coif. Sara served as Articles Editor for the Florida Law Reviewand received book awards in Legal Drafting, Appellate Advocacy, and Professional Responsibility.

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