The changing demands of the economy have led to a rise in contract workers and independent contractors performing job duties that were once the province of traditional employees. While this change in employment practices allows Florida’s employers more flexibility to meet their staffing needs, it also muddies the waters for unemployment insurance benefits eligibility. Although each beneficiary’s claim is reviewed individually, workers whose contracts weren’t renewed should consider several factors when determining their eligibility for benefits.
Employee or Indpendent Contractor?
Workers who worked under contracts that allowed them to work as an independent contractor can’t claim unemployment benefits in Florida. In most cases, if an employer didn’t withhold payroll taxes from the contract employee’s paycheck, he's considered an independent contractor. However, the Internal Revenue Service requires employers who directly supervise employees, set their schedule and place of work and provide the tools and materials needed to perform their jobs to treat workers as employees, not independent contractors.
A short-term employment contract won’t disqualify an applicant from eligibility from receiving Florida unemployment benefits if she worked as an employee. State unemployment law broadly defines qualifying employment as any manner of work, from full-time and part-time positions to temporary and seasonal employment. A short-term employment contract may be considered temporary employment for benefit purposes, and these claimants are eligible for benefits if the contract wasn’t renewed.
Reasons for Non-Renewal of Contract
Florida law provides wide protections for workers who seek unemployment insurance, generally only disqualifying workers who voluntarily quit their last position or those discharged for misconduct. Workers discharged or without a contract renewal for good-faith errors in judgment, minor negligence in ordinary circumstances or poor job performance may still qualify for benefits under Florida law. Unless a contract worker deliberately violated a state regulation, was routinely absent or late to work or deliberately violated certain employer rules, she may qualify for unemployment benefits.
Minimum Earnings Requirements
To qualify for unemployment benefits, a worker must meet minimum earnings requirements as defined by Florida law. The Agency for Workforce Innovation examines an applicant’s earnings from the first four of the previous five full quarters, known as his base period. The beneficiary must have earned wages in at least two of the four quarters in the base period, and must have earnings of at least 150 percent of those reported in his highest-earning quarter. A worker also must have earned at least $3,400 in wages in the base period to qualify. Because of this, workers with short-term contracts and gaps in their work and earnings history may not have sufficient earnings to qualify if their contract isn’t renewed.