Florida’s economy and job market has improved since the recession; however, that hasn’t benefited the state’s unemployment insurance program, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP). In 2013, the state finished paying off a $3.5 billion loan it took to pay unemployment benefits when the state was on an economic downturn. Now, a NELP study shows that it is more difficult to get benefits in Florida than almost any other state save South Carolina. The state may show its intentions by renaming the unemployment insurance program “reemployment assistance.” An NELP lawyer told the Florida Sun-Sentinel that many who don’t receive benefits fail during the application process. While officials at the Florida Department of Economic Security (DES) deny their process is at fault, the disparity suggests becoming familiar with the application process is important.
Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits in FL
To be eligible for unemployment benefits, you must have earned wages from an employer covered by the state’s unemployment insurance law. They pay into the fund that subsidizes the benefits program. You must earn enough wages from a covered employer in a 12-month period. Additionally, you must:
- Be unemployed, fully or partially, through no fault of your own
- Be able and available to work
- Be legal to work in the US or a US citizen
- Register online with the Employ Florida marketplace.
A state claims examiner will determine first whether you meet the wage earnings requirement. If you do, the state will examine the reason you were separated from employment and look for other issues to decide whether you can receive benefits.
Eligibility Requirements Explained
Unemployed Through No Fault of Your Own
If you were laid off due to downsizing, your employer going out of business, company restructuring, or other circumstances beyond your control, you could be eligible for benefits.
Able and Available
In order to receive unemployment benefits, you must be physically and mentally able to work. If you are offered a position deemed suitable, you must accept it.
Wage Earnings Requirement and the Base Period
The DES will look at your wages over a 12-month period to determine whether you qualify for reemployment assistance and how much unemployment payments you’ll receive.This 12-month period is called the base period, and is the first four of the last five quarters (3 month periods) prior to the date you filed your claim.
You must have worked and earned wages in at least two quarters of your base period (the last 4 quarters before applying for Florida unemployment). The amount of earnings during your base period must be a minimum of 1.5 times the wages of your highest earning quarter in your base period. So if your highest earning quarter was $3,000, your total earnings for the base period must be at least $4,500. You must earn more than $3,400 during the base period to be eligible.
Calculating Your Benefit Payment
The DES uses the base period to calculate how much you’ll receive each week in benefit payments, your weekly benefit amount (WBA). Take your total base period wages and divide by 26 to get your maximum WBA.
The max you can receive in Florida is set by law. The current maximum is $275. You may not receive more than the maximum level even if your wage determination would allow for more. How many weeks you can receive payments during your benefit year depends on the unemployment rate in Florida. It will be between 12 to 23 weeks. Currently you may only receive benefits for 12.
Extended Benefit Payments
At times of severe unemployment, the Federal government and state governments activate additional weeks of unemployment payments. The state formerly offers additional weeks through the Extended Benefits program, no longer active, but instead relies on the federal Emergency Unemployment Benefits Act, which was not renewed.
How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits in FL
What you need to apply
Before you apply for benefits, you will want to make sure you have all of the necessary information to complete the application. You will need the following pieces of information:
- State issued identification
- You social security number
- Names, addresses, and phone numbers for all of your employers in the past 18 months
- What dates you worked and total wages for every employer in the past 18 months
- Gross income (pre-tax income) for the first week you are claiming unemployment
- Alien registration number and the expiration date of your work permit (for non-U.S citizens)
- A DD-214 form if you were in the military within the last two years
- For federal employees, your SF-50 or SF9 form
- Checking account number and routing number to have direct deposit.
How to Apply
You can file for benefits through Florida’s online system CONNECT. You cannot file for unemployment benefits in Florida at an office or over the phone. You should file your claim within one week of becoming unemployed. You can file 24-hours a day, but if you need to speak with a representative about your application, you should call the Contact Center between normal business hours at 1-800-681-8102. You can also use the online contact form.
Once your claim has been accepted, you will receive your first payment in 3-4 weeks. No benefits are paid the first week you file you claim because it is a “waiting week”.
Maintaining Eligibility and Weekly Certifications
The DES requires that you maintain your eligibility status while you receive benefits. To make sure you remain eligible, the state requires that you request a benefit payment every two weeks. When you request the payment online with CONNECT, the software will ask you questions to help determine whether you remain eligible.
You may only request a payment on certain days. You have seven days after your scheduled day to make the request.
Day of the week to request a payment PRIOR to the FIRST PAYMENT being processed:
|Last Digit of Your SSN||Day|
Day of the week to request a payment AFTER the first payment has processed
|Last 4 Digits of Your SSN||Day|
The system will ask several questions to determine whether you remain eligible.
- Are you able and available to work
- Are you actively seeking work
- Did you refuse any offer or referral of word
- Whether you earned any wages during the week
- Any other income that you did not report when you filed your initial claim
Job Seeking Requirement
The state required you to register with Employ Florida when you filed the initial claim. To remain eligible, you must make an effort to find work. In Florida, a good faith effort to find work means five verifiable job contacts or activities per week. The DES may request that you show proof of your job contacts.
You are required to provide the following details for each job contact:
- Date of Contact
- Method of Contact (In person, Online, Fax, Phone, etc.)
- Business Name including telephone number & complete address, website URL or an e-mail
- Results of your search
- Type of work sought
The DES exclude some workers from the job search requirement.
- You are in a DES-approved training program
- You were laid off and have a date on which you’ll return to regular work
- You are in a union
- You will start a new job in six weeks or more.
Workers who live in low-population counties only have to show three contacts per week.
Part-time Work and Unemployment Benefits
You may work during a benefit week and still receive benefits as long as your wages don’t exceed your WBA. If you earn more than $58 during a week, the state will deduct money from your benefit payment.
You must report earnings when you request a benefit payment. You must report your gross wages, not your “take home” pay, and you must report the payments during the week you earned them, not during the week you received a pay check.
The state may deduct from your benefit payments for other reasons. Certain kinds of income, like investment income, may be deducted. You may chose to deduct income tax from your WBA.
Reasons for Denial of Benefits
The state will determine whether you met the wage and earnings requirement after you file your initial claim. They will mail you a Wage Transcript and Determination showing your benefit year, wages and potential WBA. If you don’t meet the wage and earnings requirement, you will not qualify to receive benefits. You may request a redetermination of your wages within 20 days of the mailing date of the determination.
Next, a claims examiner will determine whether you have any other issues that may be disqualifying. They will look at the reasons for your separation from work. Separation issues are often disqualifying.
If your actions or decisions were the proximate cause of your separation from work, the claims examiner may likely disqualify you.
If you quit work for personal reasons or reasons unconnected to work, the state may deny your claim. If you quit because you could not get child care for your school age children, or you quit because you could not get transportation to work, the state will not consider these to be a “good cause connected to work.”
If your employer fires you for actions that showed a disregard for the employer’s interests, the claims examiner may deny benefits. Such actions could include a repeated violation of a rule despite warnings or failing to perform duties as required despite warnings. The state considers these actions to be “misconduct connected to the work.”
The state might deny your benefits for reasons unrelated to wage or separation issues. Refusing a reasonable job offer is one. A reasonable offer would be one that pays a salary similar to your previous one, with duties you’re trained to perform. After you’ve received 25 weeks of benefits, the definition changes. At that point, a suitable offer would be for a job that pays 120% of your benefit amount or at least minimum wage, whichever is the greatest amount.
Quit and Still Eligible
There are some circumstances in Florida where workers could make the decision to quit, yet be eligible to receive benefits. If your employer required you to work in a hostile environment to your ethnicity or gender, it would be a good cause to quit. However, you would have to show you did everything you could to keep your job, including meeting with a supervisor or reporting the matter to your HR department.
Dismissed and Still Eligible
For the DES to deny your claim based on a discharge, the examiner must find that you committed “misconduct connected to your work.” Your employer may discharge you for a just cause in their minds; however, your action may not be misconduct, such as a one-time violation of policy. Actions can be a single occurrence and still be misconduct if the action shows a “disregard for the employer’s interests.”
What Happens When the State Denies An Unemployment Insurance Claim
You may appeal any decision by the state regarding your benefits. You may request a hearing on the determination via the state’s CONNECT system or by filing an appeal to the Office of Appeals by mail.
Office of Appeals
MSC 347, Caldwell Building
107 East Madison Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-4143
For further information on appeals, read our page about filing an appeal for unemployment benefits in Florida.
Resources and Contact Information
For questions regarding the application process or information about your claim, you can call Reemployment Assistance Hotline at 800-204-2418 Monday-Friday 8:00AM to 5:00PM.
Email Reemployment Assistance department: http://www.floridajobs.org/applications/uccontactus/
Read the FAQ about the CONNECT system
Appeals (clerk’s office): (850) 921-3511
Appeals Commission: (850) 487-2685
If you need to send any correspondences in the mail, you can send it to:
Department of Economic Opportunity
107 East Madison Street,
Tallahassee Florida 32399
If you do not have access to a computer to file your claim or need help with your application, you can contact your nearest One Stop Career Center. The directory is located here.