Congratulations on your new job (or on holding down your current one!). You are now the proud holder of your company’s benefit plan.
Your company’s senior team and Human Resources department has worked hard to develop an employee benefits plan that falls within their budget and helps keep employees as healthy and secure as possible. Your employer has held up their end of the bargain, now it’s your turn to hold up yours: get to know your benefits and take advantage of them as much as possible.
Common Health, Life and Other Group Benefits
Health Insurance: Medical and surgical services incurred abroad, in province and in country are at least partially covered by your benefits plan. Phew! Don’t forget about RMT massage reimbursements – see you at the spa!
Drug Benefits: No, not those kinds of drugs, prescription drugs. The difference in having to spend $60/month on medication, versus $5 or less will make a noticeable difference in your budgeting.
Vision Care: Many companies will reimburse their employees at least $150 every two years towards contact lenses and eyeglasses, plus eye exams. For those of us who are not four-eyes, feel free to use this benefit for prescription sunglasses, after all, who wants cataracts?
Dental Care: This covers preventative (cleanings), basic (fillings) and major (crowns) restorative services. Tip: give your dentist a copy of your dental benefit plan (I still have a hard time determining what a ‘unit of scaling’ is…), this will allow them to work with you on how you can maximize your plan to make the most of their services at the least cost to you.
Hospital & Extended Heath Care Services: Knock on wood you don’t find yourself seriously injured, but if you are, this benefit can pay for the costs of the ambulance hospitalization, medical procedures and at-home nursing care that the government doesn’t cover.
Life Insurance: Did you know that your job would actually pay out life insurance to someone of your choosing (your ‘beneficiary’) if you die?
This means more peace of mind for you and loved ones.
Travel Insurance: Before you buy that supplementary travel insurance, find out if you and your family are already covered through your employer. Why pay twice?
Long Term Disability: Were you injured on the job? Off the job? Research to what extent you are covered in the event that you get hurt and cannot work for an extended period of time.
Employee Assistance Program: If you’re feeling stressed out, or are dealing with a personal crisis, professional help might only be a phone call away. Many employers also offer counseling services to their employees and of course, this all 100% confidential. In this new, fast-paced, high-stress work environment, I encourage everyone to make use of this service.
Employee Pension Plans: Allows you to buy into a group plan managed by an external fund manager (or team of fund managers). Many companies offer matching programs, that is, for every dollar you contribute, they’ll contribute a certain percentage. My advice here is to contribute the maximum amount, especially if matching is offered. Hello free money!
After three years at a previous job, I left with thousands of dollars stashed away in LIRA (Locked-In Retirement Account) thanks to my employee pension plan and matching, and trust me; I barely noticed the deductions off of my paycheque. There are horror stories, especially in the U.S., about entire pensions being wiped out, but those are extreme examples that I wouldn’t recommend you let influence your decision to contribute. However, whether your employer has a pension plan or not, I strongly recommend contributing to an RRSP outside of it, as to not leave your retirement 100% in the hands of someone else.
Employee Stock Purchase Program: If your company is publicly listed on the stock exchange, chances are, there must be some opportunity to purchase some stock, at either a discounted rate, or with special provisions. An example of a special provision would be purchasing the stock at market value, and being guaranteed to be able to sell it either at or above purchase price. This means you’ll never sell it at a loss.
Other Benefits: These vary by employer and can include educational tuition reimbursements, athletic (i.e. gym) reimbursements and 24-hour legal service access.
Whether you’re a new or long-time employee, I strongly recommend requesting and reading any benefits material available, pestering HR with a million questions and participating in any benefits workshops that HR might moderate. These all could translate to thousands of dollars in savings and little to no cost to you.
Written by M. Alice Allen