The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) details the rules and laws of how employers should handle employee retirement plans. Violations of these rules can result in fines and penalties for employers.
A program developed in 2002, the VFCP or Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program, allows companies to rectify violations in 19 different categories and avoid prosecution. The VFCP was extended and streamlined in 2006.
Even with the regulations simplified, VFCP can still be a complex issue. That’s why the U.S. Department of Labor is sponsoring free regional workshops across the nation, to explain VFCP to employers.
In Georgia, the free half-day VFCP workshop is scheduled for Wednesday June 18, 2008 at the Renaissance Hotel Downtown Atlanta, 590 West Peachtree Street NW. The workshop begins promptly at 830 am and will end at noon.
As an extra bonus, ERISA staff will be on hand for one-on-one consultations with employers, at no charge, from noon until 1 pm.
Employers in nearby states are encouraged to attend.
Space for this even is limited, so employers who are interested should register now by completing this simple online form.
Any employer responsible for fiduciary violations under ERISA might be eligible to utilize VFCP. Parties in interest, officials, and benefit plan sponsors are included in this eligibility. In some cases, companies can avoid excise taxes of past errors, and possibly IRS penalties.
VFCP allows employers to correct past violations in nineteen different categories of transactions, such as:
Benefit Payments Based on Improper Valuation of Plan Assets
- Payment of Duplicate, Excessive, or Unnecessary Compensation
- Purchase of Assets by Plans from Parties in Interest
- Payment of Dual Compensation to Plan Fiduciaries
- Sale of Assets by Plans to Parties in Interest
- Sale and Leaseback of Property to Sponsoring Employers
- Delinquent Participant Contributions and Participant Loan Repayments to Pension Plans
- Delinquent Participant Contributions to Insured Welfare Plans
- Delinquent Participant Contributions to Welfare Plan Trusts Purchase of Assets from Non-Parties in Interest at More Than Fair Market Value
- Sale of Assets to Non-Parties in Interest at Less Than Fair Market Value
- Holding of an Illiquid Asset Previously Purchased by Plan
- Improper Payment of Expenses by Plan
- Defaulted Participant Loans
Correcting these violations must be done in a manner specified by VFCP. Employers must meet certain criteria and follow specific procedures to correct all violations, completely and accurately. Companies must also provide proof that the corrections were completely rectified.
Employers who do not comply with VFCP protocols may face consequences as detailed in ERISA Sections 502 (I) and 502 (i).
There were a number of incidents of violence in the workplace in February 2008.These include a shooting at a Lane Bryant store near a mall in Tinley Park, Illinois, and the brutal slaying of a therapist in New York.
Despite such high-profile incidents, the U.S. government reports that workplace violence is decreasing. Still, every employer should have a plan in place to prevent workplace violence.
In 2006, there were 94 workplace murders in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That may be down from the rate of more than 200 annually during the early 1990s, but it is still a significant risk nationally and in Georgia. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says that there are ways to deal with the danger.
The best protection, according to OSHA, is for employers to institute a zero-tolerance policy against violence by or against employees. A workplace violence prevention plan should be developed. It may be worked into the regular safety program. Employees should know and understand the policy on violence. Employee manuals and handbooks should have information about violence prevention and response.
Streaming videos and downloads about preventing workplace violence are available through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
OSHA has developed a series of suggested steps for preventing violence at work. Outside sales people and others who work out of the office should, for their own protection, file daily work plans and keep their employers up to date about their location. Escorts should be provided for employees who are uncomfortable about leaving the firm’s building at night.
It is also recommended that staff have cell phones and hand-held alarms. Electronic keys, guards, and I.D. badges all help restrict access. Alarm systems, video surveillance cameras, and additional lighting are useful. So is a drop safe to cut back on the amount of money on hand.
More than 2 million people annually suffer workplace violence in the U.S. Professionals and blue-collar workers alike are in danger.
Healthcare workers, social services employees, nurses, psychiatric evaluators, and probation officers face risks. So do Taxi drivers, gas and water utility workers, retail workers, mail carriers, and phone and cable TV installers. Nurses face on-the-job assaults as frequently as police officers. People generally at risk are employees working in high crime areas, those who work alone in small groups on late night or early morning shifts, workers who exchange money with the public and those who deliver passengers, goods, and services.
OSHA Georgia Worker Safety
No employer can guarantee the safety of every employee on the job. When it comes to workplace violence, however, there are steps that can be taken that will reduce the danger to workers.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed steps that can protect employees from violence in the workplace. OSHA’s General Duty Clause says employers must insure a healthful and safe workplace, and that includes moves to prevent, reduce, or limit the effects of violence. Penalties can result from failure to take preventive steps.
Workplace violence response and prevention procedures should be practiced the way fire drills are practiced. Employees should report violence threats, even seemingly non-serious ones, quickly. Every violent incident should be investigated, regardless of how small it may appear to be. The worker who punches a coworker in the arm one day could be the person who brings a gun to work the next. Employers should keep detailed and accurate records of incidents and threats and take corrective measures.
OSHA has developed a number of guidelines, behaviors that employees can develop that will protect themselves from workplace violence.
Workers should attend safety-training programs to learn how to spot, avoid, or defuse possibly violent situations. They should tell their supervisors or managers about any safety and security concerns they may have.
Employees should report all incidents in writing. Warning signs are rage, threats, minor assaults, verbal abuse, and even destroying property.
Employers should warn workers against traveling by themselves into unfamiliar sites and situations. Employees should not be scheduled to come into a strange city at 2 a.m., for example. Workers whose jobs take them into the community should avoid flashing jewelry or showing off expensive merchandise.
If violent incidents occur, employers should offer counseling or stress debriefing to all workers. They should provide first aid and other medical attention immediately. The incident should be reported to the police without delay. All victims should be told of their right to take legal action against the perpetrators of the violence. Finally, staff should be encouraged to develop and share ideas about prevention.
Georgia OSHA 300 forms should now be completed by all employers within the state. This is a requirement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The OSHA 300 form must be displayed from February 1, 2008 to April 30, 2008.
The form must be prominently displayed in an area that is easily accessible by all employees. This is a requirement by law, and OSHA is intolerant of noncompliance. Businesses that are caught not properly displaying this required poster, for the fully allotted time, will be subject to fines.
The OSHA 300 form provides a thorough recap of all work-related illnesses or accidents that happened in 2007. It also lists the causes of those mishaps.
OSHA sources reveal, “Employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their employees. OSHA’s role is to assure the safety and health of America’s workers by setting and enforcing standards; providing training, outreach, and education; establishing partnerships; and encouraging continual improvement in workplace safety and health.”
Employers are responsible for displaying the OSHA 300 log, in addition to the OSHA-It’s the Law Poster.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is the federal agency that is responsible for maintaining and regulating safety in the workplace. The organization regulates most private businesses and non-profits within the United States. There are some industries, however, that have their own worker safety organizations under federal law.
The mining industry, for example, is regulated by the Mining Safety and Health Agency, or MSHA. This is primarily because the safety standards in the field of mining are significantly different from those in most other businesses. The Department of Transportation heavily regulates both the transportation and railroad industries. Their rules pertain largely to worker safety issues.
It is important for employers to realize that OSHA offers free safety advice and consultation, as well as enforcing all worker safety laws and regulations. The organization also performs inspections.
In the state of Georgia, as well as other states, one of the primary goals of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is to reduce and prevent workplace accidents. Companies are expected to do their part by ensuring that employees follow all safety precautions, and reminding employees of the importance of health and safety.
More than half of all states follow the federal regulations regarding job safety and health standards. The other 22 states have opted out of the federal program, and created programs of their own. Each state’s OSHA plan, according to federal regulations, has to be at least as effective as the federal OSHA program. The majority of state OSHA programs are practically identical to the federal program.
Washington, for example, has its own OSHA program. This organization, therefore, conducts its own safety inspections, rather than having the federal government perform this function. They also offer health training programs, as well as occupational safety programs. The Washington OSHA also offers on-site consultation to assist employers in learning how to observe and resolve any workplace hazards. This valuable service is free.
Most other state worker safety organizations have similar requirements and regulations. California, for example, takes the whole process a step further. This state chooses to make public workplace hazards that the federal OSHA standards do not cover. Most states only make public those workplace hazards that are stipulated in the federal standards.
States who want to have their own OSHA policy must get that policy approved by the federal government prior to being able to use the program.
To obtain approval for getting a state OSHA plan, states must submit a developmental plan to ensure that a particular state has the funding to operate its own OSHA. This process ends in certification. Obtaining certification requires states to assure the federal OSHA that they will be able to run their own effective operation within three years.
Every Georgia employer should update their labor law posters before January 1, 2008.
The 2008 Georgia labor law posters contain some important changes. During the year, the federal minimum wage increased by 70 cents from $5.15 to $5.85 per hour. An additional increase is due on July 24, 2008, which means that Georgia employers will need to update their posters yet again.
In 2008, by state law, every Georgia employer is required to display the following posters:
- No Smoking Notice
- Workers’ Compensation
- Unemployment Insurance
- Equal Pay for Equal Work Act
- Vacation Notice
- Workers’ Comp. Bill of Rights
Popular locations for posters include break rooms, beside the employee time clock or in other employees-only areas.
In addition, Georgia employers are required to display a number of federal labor law posters including:
- USERRA – Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act
- Equal Employment Opportunity is the Law
- Federal Minimum Wage
- Employee Polygraph Protection Act
- Family and Medical Leave Act
- OSHA-Job Safety & Health Protection
Minimum wage changes are the big news in labor law across the nation as 2007 draws to a close. There is wide variation in state minimum wages, from $2.65 per hour in Kansas to more than $8.00 per hour. For the past two years, the Oregon minimum wage has been the second highest in the nation. In 2008, it will go to the fourth highest, when California and Massachusetts increase their state rates from $7.50 per hour to $8.00 per hour. This is just one of the changes that will be reflected in the new labor law posters for the year.
Oregon labor law posters serve as a handy reference on a wide range of topics, from unemployment benefits to child labor laws.
Labor law posters provide important information for employees and supervisors alike. For example, from state to state, the laws controlling minimum wage for tipped workers and overtime pay show a wide variation. Complete updates are available on each state’s labor law posters.
States either have no overtime law, in which case they follow the federal law, or they pass laws building on or mirroring the federal law.
Federal law offers a premium of 1.5 times the normal hourly rate for any time over 40 hours. States without their own laws include Delaware, Arizona, Idaho, Georgia, and Florida. Workers not normally covered by federal overtime law are not entitled to overtime in these states.
Nebraska mirrors the federal law but extends coverage to all businesses with 4 or more employees. Illinois, Massachusetts, and Michigan also mirror federal law – 1.5 times normal after 40 hours. But Kansas’ overtime does not kick in until 46 hours, and Minnesota’s not until 48.
Kentucky provides overtime after 40 hours or on the 7th consecutive workday regardless of number of hours. In Colorado, it kicks in after 12 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week. Only restaurant and hotel workers may collect overtime on the 7th consecutive day of work in Connecticut.
California has the most generous plan. Employees get overtime after working 8 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week. Anyone working 7 consecutive days gets overtime on the 7th day. Double-time is paid after an employee works 12 hours in a day, or after 8 hours on the 7th consecutive work day.
When it comes to minimum wage rates for tipped workers, some states don’t have their own laws, so they are automatically covered by the federal law. Some are slightly more generous, while others equal or are nearly equal to the states’ own minimum wages. Kansas, on the other hand, at $1.59 an hour, is the lowest.
A recent article by a safety adviser examines forklift hazards in the workplace. Under OSHA standards, forklift operators should be regularly evaluated and retrained. Forklifts are one of the most common pieces of equipment used in industry
There are about 1.5 million forklift operators in the United States, according to a recent Georgia worker safety report. Forklifts are used in virtually every industry. Forklifts are also called Powered Industrial Trucks, PITs, or fork trucks. Many injuries and even deaths each year result from improper forklift use.
Anytime a forklift driver uses the fork truck in an unsafe way, he or she should be retrained. This includes retraining after every accident or “close call.” A good forklift training program will take several factors into account. One of these factors is the operator’s level of experience and demonstrated skill. Another is the type of forklift being used. Training should specifically address any hazards in the workplace.
A recent Georgia worker safety article demonstrates the importance of operator training to minimize injuries and fatalities. Many people are lulled into a false sense of security because the forklift controls are easy to handle. However, fork trucks cause many deaths each year.
Instability due to improper load balance is one of the major causes of forklift accidents. An operator should never add more weight to the back of the forklift to balance the load and make the truck more stable. This is a very common mistake, but it can easily result in a serious accident. Adding weight to the rear of the forklift changes the center of gravity and often causes the truck to flip over, sometimes with deadly results.
Forklift loads must be moved slowly. If the steering feels light, that’s a sign that the truck is unbalanced. An unbalanced fork truck is difficult to control and can easily flip over.
Attachments are often added to forklifts, especially in the manufacturing industry. Every attachment must be approved by the manufacturer in writing, prior to use. Attachments change the safety rating of the fork truck. Once the manufacturer approves the addition, new tags or decals will be issued for the forklift.