What Every Floridian Should Know About Employment Law

When you start working, you start paying federal income and payroll tax. IRS, W-4, 1040, FICA… These are all terms you need to know and understand to prepare your tax returns. There are also laws you should know that regulate the safety of your workplace, how much you are paid, and when you can legally be hired and fired.

Your federal income tax pays your share of the cost of running the federal government and the cost of the services it provides, including the military, roads, bridges, education, and much more. The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) is the federal agency responsible for collecting income tax. With the support of federal laws requiring employers and banks to report your salary and other earnings, the IRS is very effective in collecting taxes, imposing fines and interest, and criminally prosecuting people who do not pay the entire tax they owe.

Most employers are required to withhold your estimated income tax from your pay. When you start working, your employer will have you fill out an IRS Form W-4. You report whether you have multiple jobs or dependents and your employer uses this information when it calculates the taxes it will withhold from your pay. The tax year runs from January 1 through December 31 for income tax purposes. Employers have until January 31 to send you a Form W-2 for the preceding year, which will list how much you earned and how much was withheld for income tax and for other mandatory withholdings.

Generally, the fewer exemptions you claim, the more tax is withheld through the year. If you don’t have enough withheld, you will have to pay taxes when you file your tax return. Typically, tax returns must be postmarked or transmitted by e-filing on or before April 15. Your “return” is the IRS form you use to report your income, usually Form 1040 or 1040-SR. This form helps you calculate how much you must pay or how much you are entitled to have refunded from the amount your employer withheld. Forms and instructions for completing them are available from the IRS online. In addition, many libraries and post offices offer free paper copies. You can also call the IRS and request that they mail the forms to you.

The IRS provides mobile applications and online tools to assist you in calculating your taxes and tracking your refund, available at IRS.gov.

FICA stands for the Federal Insurance Contributions Act. It is also referred to as the “payroll tax.” This is money that your employer is required to withhold from your pay and match with its own contribution to fund Social Security and Medicare. Social Security provides income to the elderly, the disabled and the children of deceased workers. Medicare provides payment for medical services to the elderly and disabled. Your payments through FICA and the time period you make these payments affect the benefits you receive if you are disabled or when you retire.

If you are self-employed or work as an “independent contractor” (who receives a Form 1099-MISC instead of a Form W-2), neither estimated federal income tax nor the FICA taxes are withheld from your income and you could have a tax liability when you file your return. You may be required to make periodic estimated tax payments in order to avoid penalties for underpaying or failing to make estimated payments throughout the year. More information about whether you are required to make estimated payments and how to calculate them can be found on the IRS website.

You (or your parents if you are a dependent) may be eligible for a tax credit for certain higher education-related expenses. The IRS website provides information and an interactive tool to help you determine eligibility.

IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals. Lower income individuals and families are eligible for free tax preparation assistance, and there are more than 12,000 free tax preparation sites nationwide. You can find a location near you on the IRS website.

The IRS allows individual taxpayers an automatic extension of time (until October 15) to file their tax return, so long as Form 4868 is filed on or before April 15. There are penalties for late filing that will accrue if you do not file the extension form by April 15, or if you ultimately file after the October 15 extension date. Even if you cannot afford to pay the full amount of the tax owed, you should still file your return timely to prevent the accumulation of any additional penalties.

There is no extension of time to pay taxes you owe, so interest and penalties will accrue from the day the tax is due - April 15 of the filing year. The IRS is a formidable creditor, and may garnish your wages or levy your bank account if you do not make an arrangement to pay your taxes. Depending upon your financial circumstances, you may be able to arrange an installment payment plan with the IRS. If the amount that you owe is greater than $25,000 or you are having a difficult time resolving your tax debt with the IRS directly, you may want to consider contacting a tax attorney who can assist you in negotiating with the IRS.

The IRS website provides a wealth of information and assistance. Be careful - many websites try to look like the IRS website to fool you into buying information and services that the IRS provides free. You may choose to seek paid tax advice but don’t get scammed by a for-profit business which is trying to sell the free services and information provided by the IRS. You can also view free IRS publications on a wide range of tax topics on the IRS website. The IRS provides toll free telephone assistance Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. at 1-800-829-1040.

You can expect to work in a safe environment. Private employers may be fined for unsafe working conditions under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). The Florida Workers’ Compensation law provides protection for workers injured on the job. If you are injured, you must notify your employer immediately to ensure your rights are protected.

Yes. Federal and Florida law mandate minimum wages for covered employees. As of January 1, 2021, the Florida minimum wage is $8.65 per hour. However, on September 30, 2021, the Florida minimum wage will rise to $10.00 per hour.

Typically, no. Most employers do not issue written contracts because Florida is an “at will” employment state. At-will employees may be terminated for any reason, except for an illegal reason. Likewise, at-will employees may resign their employment at any time for any reason. Generally, employees who do work under an employment contract (which includes a union contract for workplaces that have unions) can only be terminated for reasons specified in the contract.

It is illegal for an employer to refuse to hire, fire, or otherwise take adverse action against you because of your race, sex, age, religion, national origin, handicap, disability, marital status, pregnancy, jury service, or possessing the sickle cell trait. In addition, Florida has laws prohibiting retaliation against certain whistleblowers by both public and private employers. Florida law also protects employees from being discharged, threatened with discharge, intimidated, or coerced for filing a valid claim for workers’ compensation for a work related injury.

Yes, but employers must comply with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act when using background checks done by consumer reporting agencies. For certain occupations, Florida law specifies the type and level of checks to be conducted. Employers who conduct background checks should keep the results confidential.

In Florida, minors can begin working at the age of 14, but are limited in the types of jobs they may perform and the hours they may work until they turn 18. For more information regarding the limitations of working minors, and your rights under the child labor law, contact the Child Labor Section of Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation at (800) 226-2536.

Generally, no. In Florida, minors cannot work more than four consecutive hours without a 30-minute uninterrupted break. However, if you are an adult you are not entitled to work breaks, except in certain regulated occupations, like commercial truck driving. Breaks for adults are at the discretion of the employer and are usually established by company policy.

Unemployment compensation provides payments to individuals who were working but lost their jobs through layoffs or other specific reasons. To get more information, contact the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.