Don't let cold and flu season sneak up on you - prepare now!

Before you know it, the balmy days of summer will give way to crisper fall temperatures. And with the change in season comes the arrival of colds and flu. Sniffling, sneezing cold season can start up as early as September, with the aches and fever of flu not far behind it in October.

By taking the proper precautions, you can keep a cold or flu outbreak from sidelining your employees. It’s not too early to:

Encourage employees to get a flu shot. Find a local flu clinic or consider hosting an on-site flu clinic. Vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu, especially for those at higher risk, such as individuals age 65 and older, pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses.

• Educate employees about the flu and what they can do to minimize its spread. Distribute information (via handouts, emails and/or posters) on flu symptoms and how to avoid contracting or sharing germs.

• Review your sick leave policy and ensure employees understand it. Consider adopting flexible hours or allowing telecommuting for employees who need to care for themselves or a sick family member.

• Reinforce good flu-prevention hygiene with employees, such as frequent hand washing, keeping a clean work area and using tissues when sneezing or coughing. Other ways employees can minimize exposure is by limiting face-to-face time, foregoing business travel and avoiding basic greetings like shaking hands.

Keep employees informed with “flu smart” workplace posters and support frequent hand washing with hand sanitizer dispensers mounted throughout the building.

HR managers have training on the brain, according to survey

Based on a survey by OfficeTeam, a leading staffing service with more than 320 locations worldwide, HR departments are most concerned with training their employees right now. More than 500 HR managers at companies with 20 or more employees responded to the question, “Which of the following is your greatest staffing concern as a human resources professional?” The results:

45% - Training and developing employees
27% - Retaining top-performing employees
23% - Recruiting new employees
5% - None/doesn’t apply

OfficeTeam executive director Robert Hosking explains: "As workers take on expanded responsibilities, it becomes more important for companies to offer professional development to help their teams keep up. Training programs boost job satisfaction for employees by enabling them to build new skills and take on more challenging roles."

Especially today, companies are looking for programs that deliver the best training ROI. At the very least, these programs must be designed with a clear purpose and outline measurable objectives for employees to reach.

Any organization can use these top five employee training tips to help design their own training courses or to improve the ROI of any current programs:

1) Set clear goals. Identifying goals should be the first step to developing a new training program or enrolling employees in outside courses. A clear set of goals will ensure that employees complete the required course material and know what is expected of them once the program is finished.

2) Keep it ongoing. Employee training should be viewed as a way to continually learn and improve, rather than just something to check off your to-do list. With continuous training, employees will develop new skills and abilities that will improve their productivity and boost to your bottom line.

3) Keep it simple. Keep training programs focused on one topic at a time. If there are too many topics or too much information, you can easily overwhelm employees and turn training into a burden instead of an opportunity. If necessary, split up a large training program into smaller, more manageable courses.

4) Spend wisely. Do your homework and make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck when investing in employee training. Whether you’re using an outside resource or developing an in-house training program, ensure the materials are the best quality for your budget.

5) Follow up. After the training course or seminar is complete, managers should meet with employees on a regular basis to determine the effectiveness of the training and to monitor employees’ progress. Managers can also help employees who may be struggling with any new information.

A business is only as good as the people who work for it. Help your business succeed by giving employees the tools and training to perform at their best.

Gearing up for the 1099 onslaught

Businesses need to anticipate a flurry of 1099s in 2012. Hidden deep within the recently enacted healthcare reform bill are new 1099 reporting requirements that will place significant demands on your time and resources. With this one tax change, you could find yourself filing hundreds more 1099s just to comply.

Under current law, you are required to record the income payments you make each year to non-employees on a 1099-MISC form. When the total payments to independent contractors, consultants, attorneys, vendors, healthcare professionals, trainers, freelancers and other non-employees exceed $600 in a calendar year, you issue a 1099 to the individual and file it with the IRS.

Beginning next year, many more payments will be subject to the expanded 1099 rules. For the first time, you’ll also issue 1099s to corporations - and for virtually all goods that exceed $600 in a calendar year.

When you consider all the payments you make in the course of running your business – from computer equipment and office supplies to janitorial services and overnight package delivery – you realize just how many 1099s this will entail.

Why the health care reform bill contains a 1099 change ...

The obvious question for most businesses is, “How did this sweeping tax change end up in the health care reform bill?”

Blame it on the burgeoning federal deficit. The tax change is expected to help the IRS capture an estimated $345 billion in new tax revenues, as well as offset the cost of the historic health care legislation. The reporting requirements have been on the IRS’ radar for a long time, and they finally made it in the health care reform bill.

Plan ahead so you're fully prepared

While we won’t know the ultimate impact of the new law until the IRS issues its final regulations, we do know it’s not too soon to plan for how you’ll manage the spike in 1099 filings. Stay tuned for more details on the new requirements, as well as tips for easing the paperwork burden.

Federal agencies to bump up enforcement in 2010

Last year a number of federal agencies increased their compliance enforcement efforts, including the Department of Labor (DOL), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Recent actions by these agencies suggest that this trend will continue in 2010:

• Designed to raise employee awareness of their rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the recently launched, DOL-sponsored We Can Help campaign will undoubtedly increase the number of employee wage and hour complaints to the agency. The campaign is actively targeting the country’s lowest-paid workers, regardless of citizenship status, and encourages them to submit information, including pay stubs and hours of work, via the agency’s website. In addition, the DOL received a significant uptick in funding for 2010, and is requesting more in its proposed 2011 budget.

• Immigration enforcement is a priority for the Obama administration, and the DHS is following through with plans to conduct 25,000 on-site inspections at companies who employ workers with H-1B visas – an increase of nearly 20,000 over the previous year.

• Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis has promised more OSHA inspections, and employers can expect to see a shift to a more aggressive, citation-based approach from OSHA. Last year, between July and September, OSHA performed nearly 700 inspections and issued over 1,000 violations that resulted in $1.6 million in fines.

Enforcement efforts like the We Can Help campaign and others underscore the importance of maintaining strict compliance with federal regulations, including those covering labor, safety, tax, immigration and employment law. Stay tuned for more updates as they come.

Are you clear on who qualifies for the HIRE Act tax benefits?

To take advantage of the HIRE Act’s payroll tax exemption, you must have eligible new hires complete Form W-11. The form acts as a signed affidavit, certifying that the employee has not been employed for more than 40 hours during the 60-day period ending on the hire date.

Many employers pursuing this tax benefit continue to have questions, however. The IRS has responded by updating the HIRE Act FAQs on its website. Based on new details from the IRS, you should be aware that:

• As long as other requirements are met, self-employed individuals qualify, which makes you eligible for the payroll tax exemption if you hire an independent contractor as an employee.

• To meet the hiring date requirement of a qualified employee (hired after Feb. 3, 2010, and before Jan. 1, 2011), an individual’s start date must follow “general principles” relating to employment. Employment begins on the date when, based on specific facts and circumstances, the employer-employee relationship is first established.

• Generally, an employee does not qualify if he or she is hired to replace an existing employee unless the former employee 1) voluntarily terminated employment, 2) was terminated due to gross negligence, 3) was terminated for poor performance, or 4) was terminated in a reduction in force due to lack of work.

• A minor can sign the Form W-11.

The Downloadable Form W-11 from G.Neil includes a FREE Tip Sheet with helpful do’s and don’ts, and advice for identifying qualifying employees under the federal HIRE act.

Fed-up JetBlue flight attendant ... hothead or hero?

We’ve all had horrible days at work that almost sent us over the edge. But we bury the stress and swallow back the urge to yell “I quit” and walk out the door.

Not Steven Slater. For cursing out a customer, grabbing a beer and fleeing the plane via the emergency exit chute, this JetBlue flight attendant has captured America’s attention. In fact, burned-out workers across the country are propping Slater up as a hero after his highly publicized workplace rant.

As two readers shared in an article:

“How many of us can honestly say we haven’t wanted to do the same thing? Steve is a working class hero!”

“Maybe not the best way to quit your job but hey, sometimes enough is enough.”

But the fantasy of telling your boss off could quickly collide with the reality of being jobless. As the article explains:

Some may see Slater as a hero because they know they don’t have the luxury to speak out like that in their own lives. While Slater may have felt great after finally letting loose in such a public way, the fact is that most of us need our jobs more than we need that release. And most of us realize that such a dramatic move can carry heavy consequences, such as the felony charges that Slater is currently facing.

When all is said and done, we need our jobs … and we need to find ways to cope with the frustrations that come with them. We may sympathize with and applaud Slater for his actions, but would we do the same and risk losing our jobs?

10 tips for surviving an I-9 audit

In a strategic plan to step up enforcement of immigration-related employment laws, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be knocking on more doors and conducting more workplace inspections in the coming years.

While certain industries are more vulnerable to investigations (such as agriculture, construction, hospitality and food processing), all employers need to take the proper steps to protect themselves and prevent I-9 violations.

1. Store I-9 forms in separate binders (not in employee personnel files) for current employees and terminated employees.
2. Print a list of all current employees, including name and date of hire.
3. Use the correct, most up-to-date version of the I-9 form.
4. Refuse any document with a past-due expiration date when completing the I-9 form for a new hire.
5. Do not verify U.S. passports or passport cards, Permanent Resident or Resident Alien Cards, or List B Identity documents.
6. Re-verify expiring work authorization documents before they expire – and do not allow an employee to continue working after the work authorization document expires.
7. Conduct a self-audit of your I-9 forms to make sure they are complete and accurate.
8. Avoid discrimination or document abuse with your I-9 form process.
9. Accept the document and complete Section 2 of the I-9 form if the document(s) presented by the employee is on the List of Acceptable Documents, appears to be genuine and relates to the person presenting it.
10. Stand up for your rights! If ICE shows up to conduct an audit, insist on a written Notice of Inspection and your right to three business days before you share your original I-9 forms.

In addition to the mandatory Form I-9, G.Neil offers practical information and tools to help you properly complete I-9s and maintain organized, up-to-date records.

OSHA issues a new program to prevent chemical-related workplace hazards ... more safety inspections to follow

Effective July 8, 2010, a new directive by OSHA will assist enforcement personnel in carrying out a National Emphasis Program to eliminate workplace accidents associated with the catastrophic release of highly hazardous chemicals. The PSM Covered Chemical Facilities National Emphasis Program will include programmed inspections in three regions:

• Region I – Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island
• Region VII – Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri
• Region X – Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho

Unprogrammed inspections will be conducted in seven other OSHA regions, as well.

(Basically, programmed inspections are based on “objective or neutral” criteria, while unprogrammed inspections are in response to “alleged hazardous working conditions that have been identified at a specific worksite.”)

The new directive will focus primarily on chemical processing facilities, refineries, and water and/or wastewater treatment facilities. More than 15,000 facilities nationwide could face inspections as a result.

Improve your safety practices and prepare for an OSHA inspection with the ComplyRight™ SolveIt Now™ Answers to All Your Questions: OSHA Compliance.

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