Legislature approves bill protecting businesses from lawsuits brought during states of emergency
Ana Maria Rodriguez must refile to get another Tardive Dyskinesia Awareness Week.

SB 542 is among bills hoping to codify lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senate passed a bill Tuesday giving more protection to businesses if they are sued by employees during a state of emergency.

The bill (SB 542) passed the House last week with a single amendment and is now ready for the Governor’s signature. If signed, it would go into effect July 1.

SB 542 is among bills hoping to codify lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, a Republican from South Florida, is the bill’s sponsor. She said the bill would allow business owners to support nonpayroll workers, often called gig workers — like independent contractors and freelancers — during states of emergency. She said during the pandemic, businesses wished to provide things like personal protective equipment (PPE) — such as masks and hand sanitizer  — to workers, but feared they could suffer legal consequences.

“You are unable to give them anything because of the way that the employment structure is set up,” Rodriguez told the Senate Committee on Rules in January. “Companies would be able to provide these types of items to their independent contractors without creating a situation where they would be violating any laws.”

SB 542 would create a new chapter in statute which would define an “engaged individual” as someone “who provides a good or service to a business or on behalf of a business and who is remunerated for the good or service, regardless of the individual’s classification as an employee or independent contractor.” Under the bill, anyone compensated by a business would fall into that “engaged individual category.”

It also outlines a number of situations that can’t be used as evidence against a business in a lawsuit over lost or unclaimed wages, workers compensation benefits, employee benefits and more. Providing financial assistance to someone who can’t work because of a health or safety concern; providing benefits related to health and safety (such cleaning supplies, PPE and medical tests); training related to health and safety; or any legal directive during a state of emergency cannot be used to establish an employer-employee relationship.

Gig work can include anything from driving for rideshare companies, temporary employment situations, selling goods and services online or freelance work.

According to CareerSource Florida, the gig economy has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic. But a lack of state-level monitoring and varied definitions make it hard to track just how big it’s gotten. According to CareerSource, some estimates said 30-40% of workers participate in the gig economy.

Daniel Figueroa IV

Bronx, NY —> St. Pete, Fla. Just your friendly, neighborhood journo junkie with a penchant for motorcycles and Star Wars. Daniel has spent the last decade covering Tampa Bay and Florida for the Ledger of Lakeland, Tampa Bay Times, and WMNF. You can reach Daniel Figueroa IV at [email protected].


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