Florida Employment Law: 2016 Legislative Session Round Down

It is 2016, and The Florida Legislature is in full swing.  Included in the typical appropriations bills and annual amendments to Florida gambling regulations, there are several proposals relating to Employment and Labor Law moving through the committee.  Some are clear winners, but many more look like the same class of losers that pass through Tallahassee every year. Here is a break-down of what they are and could mean for Florida employees:
Minimum Wage: SB 6 & HB 109
A proposed amendment that would raise Florida’s minimum wage to $15.00/hr for non-exempt employees.  Currently, the state minimum wage is $8.05 per hour.  The current law extends the state minimum wage each year according to the Consumer Price Index. However, the CPI remained flat from 2015, resulting in no minimum wage increase for 2016.  There is very little support for a $15.00 per hour minimum wage in both the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate.  Analysts predict the measure will fail.
Revisions to the Florida Civil Rights Act: SB 120 & HB 45
Proposed amendment to Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 (FL Statutes 760.01-760.11 and 509.092), which prohibits the discrimination of persons based on race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status.  The revised bill will include persons who are discriminated based on gender and sexual orientation as well.  There is some concern that the revised language of the bill will create the basis of some meritless claims against employers.
Employer Access to Social Media Accounts: SB 186 & HB 635
The proposed bill, if passed, would prohibit employers from requiring access to an employee’s social media account, unless such account is used primarily to conduct business for the employer.
Unemployment Compensation for Victims of Domestic Violence: SB 188 & HB 737
This bill would prevent victims of domestic violence from being automatically disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits if they leave a job voluntarily due to physical or mental abuse from their spouse.
Public Sector Whistleblower Protection Act: SB 1648 & HB 1399
The proposed bill would amend current law regarding public employees who have reasonable suspicion of gross fraud, waste, and abuse of public funds and resources.  Provides for the protection of employees who report such activities from employer retaliation and permits a civil action or complaint to be filed with the Public Employee Relations Commission if the Florida Commission on Human Relations does not issue a determination on a complaint within 180 days.
Medical Marijuana: SB 852 & HB 1183
The proposed bill would expand the eligibility of patients to obtain and use marijuana for medical use.  Under the 2014 “Charlotte’s Web” law, only a very narrow category of patients are eligible to use the drug.  The House bill differs from the Senate version in the way marijuana may be used, the House bill prohibits patients from smoking the drug.  The proposed legislation would make Florida Medical marijuana more comparable to other states’ laws concerning the drug.  However, there is no current proposition for protecting employees from being terminated for violating company policies regarding the use of marijuana, whether it is a physician-prescribed or not.  Due to the apparent differences in the two versions, it is unclear if they will be able to pass the committee in their current form.
Florida Healthy Working Families Act: SB294 & HB 205
The proposed bill would require employers with more than nine employees to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.  It also provides a mechanism for employees to seek civil action with damages for violations of the proposed law.  Paid sick leave would be available for employees’ own mental or physical healthcare or the care of a family member.  The measure is expected to fail based on the fact that it would create hardship for small businesses and does not provide any qualification or certification for eligibility.
Paid Pregnancy Leave and Accommodation for Pregnant Women: SB 384 & HB 603
The proposed amendment to the Florida Civil Rights Act that would require employers to grant six weeks of paid maternity leave to new mothers, which would run concurrently with federal FMLA leave.  It also has provisions that would require employers to make accommodations for women who are disabled due to pregnancy and outlines civil penalties and damages for violations of the law, if passed.
Discrimination in Employment Screening: SB 448 & HB353
The proposed bill would make it illegal for employers to inquire about an applicant’s criminal history during the application process, except in occupations where such screening is required by law.
Discriminatory Pay Based on Gender: SB 454 & HB 7
The proposed bill that would require the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to collect, maintain, and disseminate data pertaining to equal pay in the workplace for female employees.  Also known as the Helen Gordon Davis Fair Pay Protection Act, similar bills have been proposed in recent years and failed to make it through committee.  The 2016 version creates an award to recognize companies that express a substantial effort to combat gender inequality and who seek to promote women’s rights in the workplace.
Tax Incentive for Employment of Felons: SB 1024 & HB 619
The proposed bill would create a business tax credit for the hiring and continued employment of convicted felons who have served their sentence successfully.  This is part of an on-going national trend to decrease unemployment rates among offenders and prevent convicted felons from reoffending and reentering the criminal justice system.  Research and data have backed up the belief that felons are less likely to re-offend when gainfully employed and have an easier time adjusting and reintegrating into society.


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