Check-up on Your Legally Required Workplace Details

This is the first of a quarterly series provided by employment attorney Mindi Wells of Wells Law to inform on current legal issues in the workplace. She is a presenter at the annual educational symposium and conducts monthly workshops for business owners and HR professionals.  Dedicated to helping employers throughout Ohio, Wells Law provides advice, counsel and training on workplace legal issues to ensure clients' businesses are in proper order and their employment practices are sound. Email Mindi here.

Each year at this time I remind my clients that this is a good time for an annual check-up on their legally required workplace human resources posters, forms and policies to ensure they are using the most recent version and minimizing their risk for costly penalties.  Oftentimes new laws and regulatory changes become effective on January 1. Some changes to be aware of:

Minimum Wage: 
Ohio’s minimum wage increased 15 cents on January 1, 2018, from $8.15 to $8.30 an hour.  The minimum wage for tipped employees will increase 7 cents, from $4.08 to $4.15.  Download required poster here >>

I-9 Form: 
Form I-9 is used for verifying the identity and employment authorization of individuals hired for employment in the United States. All U.S. employers must ensure proper completion of Form I-9 for each individual they hire for employment in the United States.  The Department of Homeland Security issued a new form on July 17, 2017 that expires August 31, 2019.  More information here >>

Required Workplace Posters: 
Download required federal and state posters at the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Forms Central website.  Please note: Verify whether a law and therefore its poster applies to a business of your size.

FMLA Forms: 
New forms were published by the Department of Labor a few years back and are scheduled to expire May 31, 2018.  New forms have not yet been issued.  Forms are available here >>

Concealed Carry: 
The law in Ohio changed in 2017 to allow permit holders to carry in more places.  Under the law, employers cannot enact policies or rules that prohibit employees authorized to carry concealed weapons and ammunition from storing them in their privately-owned vehicles in authorized locations.  More information here >>

Income Taxes: 
The Internal Revenue Service released new income tax withholding tables on Jan. 11, 2018.  Employers should begin using the 2018 withholding tables as soon as possible but not later than Feb. 15, 2018.  A new W-4 form is in the works.  
More details here >>

Two other topics that every employer should be aware of given recent events are harassment and retaliation.  Employers of all sizes are encouraged to review or create harassment policies, develop complaint procedures and conduct annual training for employees including managers and HR staff.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends training on workplace respect and civility as a means of encouraging appropriate workplace conduct.  Employers may want to consider adding specific examples of unacceptable conduct in their policies and training.

Retaliation remains the most frequently filed basis of discrimination with the EEOC, consistently making up around 45% of the charges filed. Retaliation claims arise when employees allege material adverse actions have been taken against them because of their role in opposing discrimination, filing a charge with the EEOC or helping another with their efforts.  Many employers have instituted anonymous hotlines for employees to report discrimination and trained managers on non-retaliation obligations.  This is another opportunity to review or create retaliation policies, develop notification procedures and conduct training for employees.

In fiscal year 2017, the EEOC filed 84,254 charges against employers and handled a staggering 540,000 calls to its toll-free number.  A sampling of recent headlines shows the need for such training and policies:  Lewisville Medical Practice Sued by EEOC for Religious Discrimination and Retaliation, Mission Hospital Agrees to Pay $89,000 To Settle EEOC Religious Discrimination Lawsuit, Pioneer Health Services to Pay $85,000 To Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit, Montrose Memorial Hospital to Pay $400,000 To Settle EEOC Age Discrimination Lawsuit, and Dependable Health Services to Pay $38,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit.

And those dollar amounts are just one part of the settlement.  In addition to those monies, employers generally end up entering into a multi-year consent decree with the EECO that requires, among other things, training, policy review and changes, and assigning a company official to be responsible for providing the company with a written recommendation before taking an adverse employment action against an employee who is actually or is perceived to be a member of a protected class.

Bottom line:  January is a great time to do an annual check-up of your required workplace posters, forms and policies.  Employers in Ohio should review their employment policies annually at the very least to ensure compliance with current laws and regulations. 

Disclaimer:  The information provided above is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. Consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

Provided by employment attorney Mindi Wells of Wells Law.
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