Publication in the Docket, November 2014
I am proud to be published on the front page of the Sarasota Bar Association's The Docket newspaper for November, 2014. The topic is Unemployment Appeals under the new Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). The article appears below:
New E-Admin System for Unemployment Appeals
Florida’s unemployment agency, recently renamed the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), has established an online third party representative (TPR) portal as part of their online claims management system called “Connect” for those assisting former employees with obtaining or retaining reemployment assistance benefit payments. The DEO has set up a similar online system for representatives of employers and labeled them “third party administrators” (TPAs). Through Connect, representatives may issue and receive documents and notices in the telephonic appeal process. I have handled many of these proceedings in my plaintiffs’ employment law practice over the years and the hearings can be helpful at times to help my clients and I better understand their cases. It is important to remember the proceedings are generally inadmissible in further non-unemployment benefit proceedings.
Under the DEO’s rules, a third party representative or administrator need not be an attorney. While the DEO’s TPR guide is 19 pages long, it the log in process is not overly difficult to understand: www.floridajobs.org/unemployment/connect/External_Guide_TPR.pdf. The claimant guide is also helpful but is 114 pages: www.floridajobs.org/.../connect/English_External_Guide_Claimant.pdf. No wonder there have been complaints about the system from job seekers.
I also have represented employers in these matters, and for our defense bar members the TPA guide is available at: www.floridajobs.org/unemployment/connect/external_guide_tpa.pdf.
The benefit claimant must login to the Connect system under the claimant portal and enter the TPR’s DEO-issued I.D. number. Claimants must apply online. The TPR will have had to have previously obtained his or her I.D. on Connect. Note it make take more than one visit or attempt for this portion of the site to function properly.
The TPR may assist the claimant in issuing subpoenas for testimony and documents from the portal. All parties may upload documents intended for hearing admissibility to Connect. This is preferable to the old system of fed-ex, mailing and faxing. Claimants may also manage any overpayment debt and repayment process which is good for Florida but may not be such a welcome tech advance from the claimants’ perspective. There is a print function for all information entered into Connect. E-notice of hearing scheduling changes, etc. should make representing claimants easier and more effective as we have been previously beholden to snail mail. TPRs are able to request both online and real mail notifications which hopefully will help to calm nerves as we get used to online notification from public sector websites. In the event the TPR has more than one representation ongoing, all claimants who have entered the TPR’s I.D. on their file may been seen on one screen at one time by the TPR. Hopefully this will aid with scheduling and keeping track of all relevant files.
So far, the requirement the claimant login and enter the TPR’s number before the TPR can begin helping the claimant has been a cumbersome burden for me and my clients. Client claimants are reporting they have a hard time logging in and interacting with the system themselves. So far, the appeals referees have been understanding and are still sending snail mail copies of notices and orders. Fortunately, I have not yet had an appeal of a telephonic appeal referee’s order to the Reemployment Assistance Appeals Commission (RAAC) (formerly the Unemployment Appeals Commission) or to a district court of appeal that resulted from tech issues out of the Connect system.
With regard to DCA appeals: the appeal may be heard by the DCA where the claimant resides, the district where the employment separation arose, or the district where the RAAC’s order was issued (F.S.§443.151(4)(e)). While notice of an appeal is accepted by the RAAC; if notice of the appeal is only provided to the RAAC rather than directly to the appropriate DCA, the appeal will be heard by the DCA in the district of the RAAC – (the 1st DCA in Tallahassee). As such, an appellant has a possible choice of up to three DCAs.
While the DEO appeal hearings are telephonic, the RAAC and DCA appeals are only by written brief. As is easily imaginable, this is hard for clients to follow. It is even harder to get them to understand that RAAC and DCA appeals are not de novo second swings at bat for their whole case but increasingly narrow legal issue appeals. As I tell clients, the telephonic hearing is the time to win these cases. With the new TRO and TRA portals, we can hopefully assist more parties to do just that.
I am happy to discuss practice before the DEO and related plaintiff employment issues with our membership.