Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt, P.A.

Vaccine PassportAt the start of summer, Governor Ron DeSantis declared that Florida is “no longer in a state of emergency.” This statement preceded a bill banning vaccine passports, and two executive orders suspending local government COVID-19 restrictions.

For employers, this doesn’t mean you should rush to discard your face marks requirement, nor should it impact your decision to mandate vaccines. Employers remain free to implement safety features they feel needed.

New York vs. Florida

Many Northeastern states have begun experimenting with COVID passports. For instance, New York City now requires at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine for entry to indoor dining, gyms, and entertainment performances. For better or worse, Florida has gone in the opposite direction. Florida law now prohibits businesses from implementing these measures with respect to customers. Specifically, the new law says that “business entities,” including for-profit and not-for-profit entities, cannot require that patrons or customers provide documentation certifying that they received the COVID-19 vaccine or certifying that they have recovered from the virus to enter or receive a service from the business.

EEOC’s View

Continue Reading What Florida employers need to know about the vaccine passport ban

Wine GlassesOn May 13, 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law Senate Bill 148, which allows restaurants or other alcohol beverage vendors to sell alcoholic drinks to-go.  No, this does not mean that Florida is an open container state; possession of an open alcoholic container in Florida is still illegal under Florida Statutes, section 316.1936 and 856.011. However, customers who want to order take-out from their favorite restaurant can now also bring home their favorite cocktail, providing the restaurant meets certain requirements.

The alcoholic drinks to-go initially started through one of DeSantis’s emergency orders as a way for struggling restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic to increase their sales. “Alcoholic drinks to-go became an important source of revenue for restaurants that were trying to survive during the pandemic,” DeSantis noted. Throughout the pandemic, restaurants were some of Florida’s businesses that were most affected. Florida Representative Josie Tomkow stated, however, that the new law

allows for restaurants to continue to offer alcohol-to-go as an option. This pro-consumer, business-friendly bill will help support our restaurant industry and its tens of thousands of employees.”

Requirements

Continue Reading I’ll Take it To-Go: New Florida Law Makes To-Go Alcohol Sales Permanent Effective July 1

COVID-19 vaccineOn June 12, 2021, a federal judge entered an Order dismissing a hospital employee’s lawsuit attempting to block a hospital policy requiring employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Houston Methodist Hospital announced a policy on April 1, 2021, mandating that all employees receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines. The hospital eventually suspended 178 employees without pay for their refusal to get vaccinated. Jessica Bridges, along with 116 other hospital employees, brought suit to block the vaccine requirement and to overturn their suspensions and possible terminations.

At the beginning of 2021, there was much speculation throughout the country regarding whether or not employers could require employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. In a previous article, Can Employers Require Employees to Receive the COVID-19 Vaccine?, I indicated that the answer appeared to be yes, with some exceptions. Now U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes appears to have confirmed this through his dismissal of Bridge’s lawsuit.

Plaintiff’s argument opposing COVID-19 vaccine

Continue Reading Federal judge upholds employer’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement

Governor Ron Desantis issued an executive order prohibiting COVID-19 “vaccine passports” in Florida. The order prevents government entities from issuing “vaccine passports” or other standardized documentation for the purpose of certifying an individual’s COVID-19 vaccine status to a third party.

How does this order impact Florida business owners?

Further, this order prohibits businesses in Florida from requiring patrons to provide documentation certifying that the individual had a COVID-19 vaccination. Businesses still, however, can employ COVID-19 screening protocols and measures, such as requiring the use of a mask.Continue Reading No COVID-19 “Vaccine Passports” for Florida

The Florida House of Representatives passed S.B. 72 in a decisive 83-31 vote, a bill that would give businesses and health care providers a legal safe harbor from COVID-19 injury and wrongful death lawsuits. Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law this afternoon. The law retroactively applies to causes of actions that have accrued but does not apply in a civil action which is commenced before the effective date of the law (March 29).

The new law provides civil immunity to corporations, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and houses of worship. The exception to the law would be a showing of gross negligence or intentional misconduct, both of which are very difficult standards to prove. The bill had its opponents, of course, namely, the plaintiff bar, as it creates significant legal hurdles for plaintiffs who wish to file lawsuits over coronavirus-related injuries.Continue Reading COVID-19 Legal Safe Harbor Signed into Florida Law

Americans and the rest of the world are hoping that in 2021 every-day life will begin normalizing. With the rolling-out of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, many feel they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

However, even though the vaccine has reinstated hope in many, it still raises additional questions. Many have wondered whether employers can make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for their employees. The answer appears to be yes.

A guidance issued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission indicated that employers can require employee vaccination to go to work. However, this does not necessarily mean that an employee would be automatically terminated. For example, the employee may be entitled to work remotely. Employers also may have to make exceptions for employees with religious objections and disabilities.

Employers should proceed with caution

Although employers can mandate a COVID-19 vaccination, the questions remains whether they will or whether they should. It will likely be challenging for employers to ensure their employees comply with the mandate. Employers requiring the vaccine may also receive some push-back.Continue Reading Can Employers Require Employees to Receive the COVID-19 Vaccine?

We are already in February 2021! Can you believe it? Our Tampa Bay Buccaneers were crowned Super Bowl Champs, spring is upon us, yet we are still wearing masks, vaccinations are being provided to Floridians as fast as possible, yet it still looks a lot like 2020 in many ways.

What’s happening in Florida Legislature?

  • New protections for health care providers. A senate committee has successfully cleared legislation on February 10, 2021, that would create COVID-19 liability protections for Florida health care providers. Senate Bill 74 (SB 74) was advanced with a 6-4 vote. The proposal would require plaintiffs to prove a provider acted with “gross negligence or intentional misconduct instead of simple negligence.” Further, the evidentiary standard would also be “clear and convincing evidence” as opposed to the much lower bar of the “greater weight of the evidence.” All in all, the legislation was proposed to provide protections to Florida’s health care industry. Other similar measures are being advanced through the Republican-controlled legislature to extend protections to schools, churches, and businesses.
  • Potential immunity from liability. Senate Bill 72 (SB 72) advanced through the Senate Judiciary and would provide liability protection to businesses to be applied retroactively to a newly filed lawsuit. Plaintiffs would be required to obtain affidavits from Florida physicians attesting that defendants’ acts or omissions caused the damages, injuries or deaths. If businesses have “substantially” complied with government-issued health standards or guidance, the business would be immune from liability. A companion bill, House Bill 7 (HB 7) has advanced through the Florida House of Representatives which would raise the bar for personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits stemming from COVID-19 and provide immunity for businesses and entities that made a “good faith” prevention effort.

What’s the impact on Florida’s economy?

Continue Reading A 360 degree look at COVID-19 in Florida — from the Legislature to the Courts

As we happily turn the calendar to January 2021, many start gathering receipts and documents to prepare for tax season. If you serve or have been recently appointed as a Personal Representative, Executor or Administrator, there are some important income tax issues you should be aware of to avoid legal action from the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”), or lawsuits from the decedent’s beneficiaries. Below are some answers to a few frequently asked questions concerning estate tax filings:

Q: When is a decedent’s final tax return due?

When someone dies, their tax year ends as of the date of death. The Personal Representative (Executor or Administrator) is responsible for filing the final federal and state returns and ensuring that any tax due is paid. These returns are due April 15 of the year after the date of death. If someone dies before filing a return for the prior year, the Personal Representative must make sure that the return is filed and any taxes paid. The IRS is one creditor you don’t want to mess with, as they can hold a Personal Representative personally liable for unpaid taxes.

Q: What is a “Step-Up in Basis”?

Continue Reading 5 tax tips for those dealing with estates

For many litigators, the best way to start a new year is with a new summary judgment standard! On December 31, 2020, the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion, adopting the federal court’s summary judgment standard as articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986). This has been a long time coming for businesses as the federal standard may decrease legal expenses by expediting civil lawsuits and avoiding unnecessary trials. This decision may also alleviate the burden on Florida’s courts by allowing more cases to be resolved at the summary judgment phase.

Former Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment in Florida is governed by Rule 1.510. In pertinent part, Rule 1.510 previously provided the “summary judgment evidence on file must show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact.” Florida courts have taken a broad approach in interpreting “no genuine issue” by prohibiting the granting of summary judgment where there is the existence of any evidence of an issue of fact. In other words, if there was the “slightest doubt” raised, Florida courts would not grant summary judgment.

Federal Summary Judgment Standard

Continue Reading New Florida Summary Judgment Standard Could Lessen Legal Expenses and Judicial Backlog

Guest post by Madison Tanner, Esq.

It is the most wonderful time of the year! Bonus season. Jokes aside, it is the season of giving. We have all been through so much this year: a pandemic, a contentious election, and virtual meetings replacing human interaction. The challenges we faced in 2020 resulted in the closure of local restaurants, reduced hours at small boutiques, and limitation of leisurely activities outside of the home. Many of us (particularly the last minute shoppers like me) are fleeing to our favorite small businesses to purchase a gift certificate for a loved one while simultaneously supporting the “shop small” movement. Small businesses graciously save the (holi)day with their festive gift certificates and I-O-U services. Thanks to these establishments, we can purchase an experience for our loved ones ranging from a facial or massage to a meal at their ideal lunch spot. The begging question is: how long does one have to use that gift certificate? The answer: in Florida, it should not expire.

Florida Law

Florida Statute § 501.95 governs on the issue. The statute, beloved by the consumer and despised by the small business owner, was first enacted in 2007 in an effort to regulate trade and protect consumers. Pursuant to § 501.95(2)(a):

“a gift certificate purchased or credit memo issued in this state may not have an expiration date, expiration period, or any type of postsale charge or fee imposed on the gift certificate or credit memo….”

Exceptions to the Rule

Continue Reading Small Businesses Beware and Consumers Rejoice: Gift Certificates Cannot Expire