Have you heard about "work sharing"? Businesses that are feeling the pinch in a number of states, including Florida, can tap into work sharing to avoid laying off employees entirely. Instead, they can simply reduce workers' hours — say, from five days a week to four — and the employees can collect unemployment benefits for the hours they've lost. Consider these tips for navigating the world of work sharing.
1Understand how it works. In Florida, work sharing falls under the state's "Short-Time Compensation" program. The program has that name because the reduction of employees' hours is supposed to be a temporary solution to a money crunch during especially rocky economic times. People can receive a maximum of 26 weeks of benefits for lost hours during an unemployment claim year.
2Recognize that the benefits run both ways. Employers who participate in work sharing benefit because they don't lose workers who are fully trained and experienced. Employees who participate benefit because they avoid a devastating hit to their income. And as soon as economic conditions improve, employers can quickly ramp up workers' hours again.
3Employers, learn how to sign up. Any employer can participate in work sharing by applying through the state's unemployment compensation program. To date, 563 employers are participating in Florida. To learn more, visit www. floridajobs.org/unemployment/uc_prog_stc.html.
4Employers, talk to your employees. If times are exceptionally tough, talk to workers about the situation and get a sense of how many would be open to having their hours cut — particularly if they could collect unemployment for their lost time. To meet the state's Short-Time Compensation requirements, at least 10 percent of employees from an entire staff or within a particular unit must be working reduced hours. (If a staff or unit has fewer than 20 employees, two employees is the minimum.)
5Employees, talk to your supervisors. If you're consumed with stress because you're hearing rumors of impending layoffs, why not talk in a calm, constructive way with your supervisor about whether work sharing may be a viable solution for your company or your division? It's certainly worth exploring — and again, everyone stands to benefit.
6Don't feel funny about accepting unemployment benefits. Even in an economic climate as dire as this, some people still feel reluctant to collect unemployment benefits. If you feel that way — well, don't. You are entitled to this form of insurance. Would you turn down medical benefits you had coming your way? Probably not. In like manner, don't turn down this form of help when you really need it.
7Think on your feet. If a layoff definitely is looming for you, there may be other ways to avoid severing your relationship with your employer altogether. Even if your employer isn't participating in work sharing, find out whether you could continue working without benefits, or working part time. Or, if your employer ever relies on independent contractors to handle certain jobs, you could offer to become one of those contractors for a time.
8Reduce your spending. If you, as an employee, do manage to benefit from work sharing, it's still a good idea to do some belt-tightening. Monitor your expenses for a few weeks or a month so you can see where you can cut back, and save as much money as you can. This will help you to be prepared in case conditions worsen for your employer even further.
9Be extremely careful with your use of credit. Again, this is the time to be building up savings, not debt. Remember that a credit card can keep you in denial about your true financial condition and can greatly exacerbate your stress levels in the long run.
10Preserve your self-esteem. This is a tip for employees, employers and laid-off workers alike. The economic crisis gripping the country is affecting millions of people in ways that are largely beyond their control. If your work hours get reduced, use the newfound time to exercise and spend quality time with people you love. Such activities will greatly benefit your frame of mind.
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sources: Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation (www.floridajobs.org/unemployment/uc_prog_stc.html and www.floridajobs.org/tellourstory/index.htm); AARP Bulletin Today (bulletin.aarp.org/yourmoney/work/)