Reminder: OSHA Form 300A posting deadline right around the corner!

Just so the date doesn’t get away from you … OSHA Form 300A, Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses, must be displayed from February 1, 2011, through April 30, 2011. The form summarizes the number of on-the-job injuries and illnesses for the calendar year, as logged on the OSHA Form 300.

It should be posted in a conspicuous place by February 1 and remain on view through April 30 – in a location where it can’t be altered, defaced or covered by other posted material.

A few things to keep in mind:

=> Even if there weren’t any recordable injuries or illnesses in 2010, you must post the form with zeros on the “TOTAL” line.

=> Copies should be made available to any employee who might not see the summary (a remote employee who works from home, for example).

=> You’ll need certain employment information, such as the annual average number of employees and total hours worked in the calendar year, to determine incidence rates.

=> You should post separate summaries for each work site.

=> Your business is exempt if you employ fewer than 10 workers (and had no fatalities).

=> The form must be filled out and certified by a company executive as correct and complete.

In a weak economy, discrimination charges strengthen

Not good. Not good at all. According to a article, workers filed a record number of discrimination charges against employers last year. And once again, the strained economy is to blame.

The number of charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) climbed to nearly 100,000 – a 7% increase from the year prior and a 21% jump from 2007.

Joe Trauger, vice president of human-resources policy for the National Association of Manufacturers, a business trade group, explains:

"When times are good, people are happy and when they're not, they aren't. Anytime we go into a recession or the economy gets a little shaky the numbers seem to spike a bit.”

The fact that the EEOC has ramped up its budget and staffing may be contributing to the increase, as well. With more resources to work with, the agency is working harder to educate employees about their workplace rights while also making their services more user-friendly and accessible.

Apparently workers are getting the message. They’re quicker to recognize discriminating behavior and take legal action when they feel they’ve been wronged.

The message, then, for employers is to ensure a harassment-free workplace supported through clear workplace policies, strict adherence to anti-discriminatory labor laws, and ongoing employee and manager training.

New year, new tax forms - Get your updated 2011 W-4s now

It had a bit of a bumpy start in the new year, but the updated Form W-4 is now available.

Here’s what happened: The form released by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on January 3 (and published again on January 6) included an incorrect OMB number (located at the top right corner of the form). Soon after our own legal research department detected the error, the IRS released a corrected version of the form on January 7.

As you know, a Form W-4 must be completed by new employees when they begin a job to claim withholding allowances on income tax returns. A new Form W-4 is also required when a current employee’s tax status changes, such as with the birth of a child or a change in marital status.

You can get your updated Form W-4s here. We offer a variety of formats (paper, downloadable, state-specific, multi-pack sets, with imprint) and support materials (tip sheets, an informative W-4 Poster) to meet your business needs and help your employees avoid costly tax mistakes.

Enforcement kicks into high gear - Don't leave your compliance efforts idling!

After shoring up their resources last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are flexing their enforcement muscles ... and planning to pack a punch in 2011.

Increased staffing and a sharper focus on enforcement will mean more audits, more investigations into complaints and more inspections in the months ahead.

The EEOC, for example, received a record-high of 99,922 discrimination charges in 2010. Yet because of the EEOC’s expanded resources, the number of pending charges dropped by 14 percent. And that’s not all: Greater claim-processing procedures resulted in the EEOC collecting an all-time high of $404 million from employers last year.

ICE is making its presence known, as well. Last year, the agency conducted more than 2, 200 employer audits, which led to 180 criminal charges. And immigration enforcement continues to be a priority for the Obama administration, with ongoing goals to conduct on-site inspections (particularly businesses that employ workers with H-1B visas) and expose illegal hiring practices.

In light of these recent statistics, it’s never been more important to prevent harassment and discrimination in the workplace (via clear policies, legally sound actions and attitudes, and regular training) and to keep scrupulous I-9 records on all employees. Otherwise, you could find your company on the receiving end of a discrimination lawsuit or I-9 audit.

If proposed NLRB rule is finalized, mandatory federal poster will follow

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) published a proposed rule last month that would require all private employers to post a notice informing employees of their National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) rights. According to the NLRB, the purpose of the proposed rule is “to increase knowledge of the NLRA among employees, to better enable the exercise of rights under the statute, and to promote statutory compliance by employers and unions.”

Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted through February 22, 2011; then the Office of Management and Budget has 90 days to review the comments and issue a final rule.

Check back here for updates on the proposed rule and to learn if a mandatory federal poster is released as a result (most likely by this summer).

Will they stay ... or will they go?

Lose 10 pounds … cut back on caffeine … learn a new language … get a new job. With the lifting of the recession and the ringing in of the new year, many employees are taking a long, hard look at their careers and planning their exit strategy. And a big reason for their departure may surprise you: lack of trust.

According to Deloitte LLP’s fourth annual Ethics & Workplace Survey, one-third of the nation’s employees will renew their job search as the economy revives. Approximately 48 percent of the respondents cite a loss of trust in their employers as a motivator for seeking a new job. At the same time, 46 percent blame a lack of transparent communication from their company’s leadership as a reason for looking elsewhere.

What’s going on here? And more important, what can management do to regain employee trust and pull back the curtain on the major decisions affecting the workplace?

While you can’t eliminate the economic uncertainties that linger even in the new year, you can invest in the mental well-being of your employees. Here are some steps in the right direction:

1. Create a clear sense of purpose. When budgets get cut and staffs downsized, employees often wonder when a pink slip is coming their way. Managers can allay fears by meeting with employees after a layoff or restructuring to revisit corporate and departmental goals. Remaining employees must understand they are critical to the ongoing success and profitability of your company. Meet regularly to share revised goals and expectations. Clearly define roles and responsibilities. And most of all, let employees know that “we’re all in this together.” Getting through challenging times is easier when everyone is working toward a common objective.

2. Get employees involved in what’s next. Once employees understand they are important to the ongoing viability of your company, encourage them to uncover and share ways to improve efficiency – to find a better way. If employees believe their ideas will be heard and implemented, they are more likely to go above and beyond. Attaching rewards to great ideas and sharing them corporate wide also cultivates an environment of value and security.

3. Dole out “thank yous” and compliments. When raises aren’t possible in tough economic times, it is imperative that leaders and managers increase their efforts to bestow positive praise on a regular basis. Heartfelt words of recognition and encouragement have a way of immediately lifting spirits. Look for ways to call out a job well done, whether it’s submitting an error-free report, staying on task with a high-profile project or working well with others on a team initiative. For most employees, being valued and praised for their hard work is just as important as a paycheck.

Previous posts:
Through thick and thin, it’s the people who matter most

Why it’s just as important to dole out the praise as it is the pay

The clock is ticking to process the new payroll tax cut for employees

Happy New Year, HR Forum readers! I hope you weathered every HR storm in 2010 with wisdom and finesse - and that 2011 brings you and your business continued growth and success. Check back here often for insight and guidance with the biggest challenges the new year throws our way. It's bound to be an interesting 12 months, with many twists and turns in the worlds of labor law, people management and HR. Together, we can tackle the toughest issues and map out the smartest solutions.

Now for the first topic this year ... taxes!

Thanks to the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, millions of employees will see a bump in their take-home pay this year. That’s because the recently passed Act provides a tax cut that reduces the Social Security (FICA) tax withholding rate from 6.2% to 4.2% of wages paid. For an employee earning up to the $106,800 taxable earnings cap, this 2% reduction amounts to a tax savings of $2,136.

While this is good news for employees, the change is putting employers in a bit of a bind to quickly implement the changes. The IRS is instructing employers to process the new withholding “as soon as possible in 2011 but not later than Jan 31, 2011.” If you accidentally process the payroll tax withholding at the higher 6.2% rate, you must reimburse employees the difference by March 31, 2011.

In addition to the reduced Social Security withholding, the IRS released new income-tax withholding tables for 2011. (The new law maintains the income-tax rates from recent years.)

Because employers and payroll companies must handle the withholding changes, employees won’t be required to take any additional action, such as filling out a new Form W-4

Please note: As soon as it is released by the federal government (usually in January of the new year), we will update the Form W-4 required by every employee to claim (or makes changes to) their tax withholdings.

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