Looks like we made it - Saying goodbye to 2009 and hello to 2010

So here we are, ushering in 2010 … a fresh, unspoiled year … a blank slate waiting to be filled with new experiences and opportunities. The year ahead feels like that shining, new employee you just hired, coming to you with impeccable credentials and a winning personality. Will the new year, like that new employee, be everything you hoped for?

In addition to wishing you a "Happy New Year" in this first blog post of 2010, I feel like I should express my congratulations, too. Congratulations on enduring a year that was anything but dull, thanks to a lingering recession, the swearing in of a new, Democratic president and heightened labor law enforcement under the Obama administration. Many of you successfully kept your businesses afloat with fewer employees, fewer resources and budgets that were cut to the bone.

Lest you forget your strength and resilience during such trying times, let us take a quick walk down memory lane to revisit the changes that hit employers the hardest in 2009 (and that were covered in HR Forum):

=> New Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rules become effective in January, with expanded military coverage and revised guidelines on determining FMLA eligibility and handling leave requests.

=> In his first piece of legislation as President, Barack Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law in late January, an equal-pay bill designed to make it easier for employees to sue for pay discrimination.

=> In response to the nation’s dire economic situation, President Obama signs a $787 billion stimulus package that includes a COBRA subsidy for laid-off workers, hiring incentives via tax credits for certain types of workers and other new HR requirements.

=> Just as most businesses are preparing to update their employment verification practices to incorporate newly updated I-9 Forms, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pushes back the scheduled update by two months (to April 3).

=> In late April, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano urges employers to aggressively prepare for another outbreak of swine flu to prevent it from becoming a full-fledged pandemic.

=> The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launches a bold initiative in early July as part of its stepped-up enforcement, alerting 652 businesses nationwide that ICE agents will be inspecting their hiring records.

=> Beginning September 8, all federal contractors and subcontractors are required to use E-Verify, a free, web-based system, that compares employee information from the Form I-9 against federal databases to verify a worker’s employment eligibility.

=> Also in September, all businesses covered by HIPAA - or that offer products or services that interact with protected health information – must notify individuals when their health information has been breached, along with updating their HIPAA policies and procedures.

=> In October, OSHA announces a national emphasis program (NEP) on recordkeeping to assess the accuracy of injury and illness data recorded by employers, largely due to unusually low incidence rates in traditionally high-rate industries.

=> The provisions of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) go into effect in November, which includes an updated EEOC “Equal Employment Opportunity is the Law” poster – the fifth federal-level posting change in five years.

Awareness and action in 2010

While the new year is starting on a high note – with many experts indicating that the recession is lifting – we can most likely expect a similar level of labor law reform and increased enforcement under the Obama administration in 2010. Check back here often for insights on the latest legal and HR issues affecting your business, including solutions to help you meet every challenge like a seasoned pro.

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