Managing Employee Benefits

Contributors to the research and text were Sandy Taube,
director, Employee Benefits Communications Services; Nora
O’Connor, associate consultant, Coopers and Lybrand; and
Jesse R. Slome, ChFC & CLU, pension manager, Aetna Life
and Casualty Company.

While we consider the contents of this publication to be of
general merit, its sponsorship by the U.S. Small Business Admin-
istration does not necessarily constitute an endoresment of the
views and opinions of the authors or the products and services of
the companies with which they are affiliated.
All of SBA’s programs and services are extended to the public on
a nondiscriminatory basis.


Employee benefits play an increasingly important role in the
lives of employees and their families and have a significant
financial and administrative impact on a business. Most companies
operate in an environment in which an educated work force has
come to expect a comprehensive benefits program. Indeed, the
absence of a program or an inadequate program can seriously
hinder a company’s ability to attract and keep good personnel.
Employers must be aware of these issues and be ready to make
informed decisions when they select employee benefits.

Designing the right benefit plan for your employees is a complex
task. There are many issues to consider, including tax and legal
aspects, funding, and finding the right vendors or

This publication describes the basics of an employee benefits
program. You may want to contact an insurance carrier or broker,
a benefits consultant or an actuary for assistance in designing
and implementing your benefit plan.


There are several ways to describe an employee benefit plan. It

* Protects employees and their families from economic hardship
brought about by sickness, disability, death or unemployment.
* Provides retirement income to employees and their families.
* Provides a system of leave or time off from work.

Mandated Benefits

The employer must pay in whole or in part for certain legally
mandated benefits and insurance coverage:

* Social Security.
* Unemployment insurance.
* Workers’ compensation.

As stated in the Social Security Handbook,

The Social Security Act and related laws established a number of
programs which have the basic objectives of providing for the
material needs of individuals and families, protecting aged and
disabled persons against the expense of illness that would
otherwise exhaust their savings, keeping families together, and
giving children the opportunity to grow up in health and

Funding for the Social Security program comes from payments by
employers, employees and self-employed persons into an insurance
fund that provides income during retirement years. Full
retirement benefits normally become available at age 65. (These
benefits are discussed in more detail in the Retirement Benefit
Plans section of this publication.) Other aspects of Social
Security deal with survivor, dependent and disability benefits,
Medicare, Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid.

Unemployment insurance benefits are payable under the laws of
individual states from the Federal-State Unemployment
Compensation Program. Employer payments, based on total payroll,
contribute to the program.

Workers’ compensation provides benefits to workers disabled by
occupational illness or injury. Each state mandates coverage and
provides benefits. In most states, private insurance or an
employer self-insurance arrangement provides the coverage.

Some states mandate short-term disability benefits as well.

Optional Benefits

A comprehensive benefit plan can include the following elements:

* Health insurance.
* Disability insurance.
* Life insurance.
* A retirement plan.
* Flexible compensation (cafeteria plans).
* Leave.

Broadly defined, a benefit plan can include other items such as
bonuses, service awards, reimbursement of employee educational
expenses and perquisites appropriate to employee responsibility.


Here are some of the reasons employers offer their benefits:

* To attract and hold capable people.
* To keep up with competition.
* To foster good morale.
* To keep employment channels open by providing opportunities for
advancement and promotion as older workers retire.

A combination of benefits programs is the most effective and
efficient means of meeting economic security needs.

For many employers, a benefit plan is an integral part of total
compensation, because employers either pay the entire cost of a
benefit plan or have employees contribute a small portion of
premium costs for their coverage.


Once you’ve implemented a benefits program, you’ll want to tell
your employees about it. Good communications are important in
enabling employees to use the plan effectively and to appreciate
the role of benefits in their total compensation.

Benefits orientation should be part of the orientation of a new
employee. You can use newsletters, staff memos or employee
meetings with audiovisuals to announce plan changes or answer
employees’ questions.


Medical and Dental Plans

A serious illness or injury can be devastating to an employee and
his or her family. It can threaten their emotional and economic
well-being. Thus, adequate health insurance is important to
employees and is part of a solid group plan.

Group health plans

* Help attract and keep employees who can make your business a
* Relieve your employees of the anxiety of health care costs by
providing the care they need before illness becomes disabling,
thus helping you avoid costly employee sick days.
* Usually cost less than purchasing several individual policies
with comparable coverage. Moreover, there are tax advantages to
offering health care benefits: your contribution as an employer
may be deductible and the insurance is not taxable income to your

As an employer, you can choose either an insured (also known as
an indemnity or fee-for-service plan) or a pre-paid plan (also
known as a health maintenance organization).

Traditional Indemnity Plans

An indemnity plan allows the employee to choose his or her own
physician. The employee typically pays for the medical care and
then files a claim form with the insurance company for

These plans use deductibles and coinsurance as well. A deductible
is a fixed amount of medical expenses an employee pays before the
insurance plan reimburses any more expenses. The deductible can
range from $100 to $1,000 a year. Coinsurance is a percentage of
medical expenses the employee pays, with the plan paying the
remaining portion. A typical coinsurance amount is 20 percent,
with the plan paying 80 percent of approved medical expenses.

Listed below are the most common types of insurance arrangements
(indemnity plans) providing health care to groups of employees.

* A basic health insurance plan, covering hospitalization, surgery
and physicians’ care in the hospital.
* A major medical insurance plan, usually supplementing a basic
plan by reimbursing charges not paid by that plan.
* A comprehensive plan, covering both hospital and medical care
with one common deductible and coinsurance feature.

Preferred Provider Organizations

Preferred provider organizations (PPOs) fall between the
conventional insurance and health maintenance organizations, and
are offered by conventional insurance underwriters. A PPO is a
network of physicians and/or hospitals that contracts with a
health insurer or employer to provide health care to employees at
predetermined discounted rates.

* They offer a broad choice of health care providers.
* Although there is no requirement for employees to use the PPO
providers, there are strong financial reasons to do so.
* Because of the broader choice of providers, PPOs are more
expensive than HMOs.
* PPOs may have less comprehensive benefits than HMOs, but the
benefits usually can meet almost any need.
* PPO providers usually collect payments directly from insurers.

Health Maintenance Organizations

Health maintenance organizations (HMOs) provide health care for
their members through a network of hospitals and physicians.
Comprehensive benefits typically include preventive care, such as
physical examinations, well baby care and immunizations, and
stop-smoking and weight control programs.

The main characteristics of HMOs are as follows.

* The choice of primary care providers is limited to one physician
within a network; however, there is frequently a wide choice for
the primary care physician.
* There is no coverage outside the HMO network of hospitals and
* Costs are lower, due to limited choice. Physicians are encouraged
to keep patients healthy; accordingly, they often are paid on a
per capita basis, regardless of how much care the patient needs.

The employer prepays HMO premiums on a fixed, per employee basis.
Employees do not have to apply for reimbursement of charges, but
they may have small copayments for medical services.

Dental Benefits

Medical insurance frequently includes dental plans. Most plans
cover all or portions of the cost for the following services:

* Cleaning, x rays and oral examinations.
* Fillings.
* Crowns and dentures.
* Root canals.
* Oral surgery.
* Orthodontia.

Disability Benefits

A disability plan provides income replacement for the employee
who cannot work due to illness or accident. These plans are
either short term or long term and are distinct from workers’
compensation because they pay benefits for non-work-related
illness or injury.

Short-Term Disability

A short-term disability is usually defined as an employee’s
inability to perform the duties of his or her normal occupation.
Benefits may begin on the first or the eighth day of disability
and are usually paid for a maximum of 26 weeks. The employee’s
salary determines the benefit level, ranging from 60 to
80 percent of pay.

You, as an employer, may specify a number of days of sick leave
paid at 100 percent of salary. The employee can use these before
short-term disability begins.

Long-Term Disability

Long-term disability (LTD) benefits usually begin after
short-term benefits conclude. LTD benefits continue for the
length of the disability or until normal retirement. Again,
benefit levels are a percentage of the employee’s pay, usually
between 60 and 80 percent. Social Security disability frequently
offsets employer-provided LTD benefits. Thus, if an employee
qualifies for Social Security disability benefits, these are
deducted from benefits paid by the employer.

Life Insurance

Traditionally, life insurance pays death benefits to
beneficiaries of employees who die during their working years.
There are two main types of life insurance:

* Survivor income plans, which make regular payments to survivors.
* Group life insurance plans, which normally make lump-sum payments
to specified beneficiaries.

Protection provided by one-year, renewable, group term life
insurance, with no cash surrender value or paid-up insurance
benefit, is very popular. Frequently, health insurance programs
offer this coverage.

You should use the same principles for selecting a life insurance
program as you do for selecting health insurance.

How To Find Good Plans

Finding a benefit plan that meets your budget constraints and
fills the needs of your employees is crucial. Among the sources
to check are

* Your local chamber of commerce.
* Independent insurance agents.
* Trade associations of your business.
* State departments (or commissions) of insurance.
* Community business leaders.
* Benefit consultants or actuaries.
* Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) (affiliated with the
U.S. Small Business Administration).

To reduce risk, select insurance underwriters with top BEST
ratings.*1 HMOs and Blue Cross/Blue Shield are not rated by Best,
but are regulated by state governments. Check with other users
and state regulators on the history of the particular plan you
are considering.


Rising costs are prompting small business owners to take a look
at a form of health care coverage previously considered an option
only for big business: self-insurance.

With self-insurance, the business predetermines and then pays a
portion or all of the medical expenses of employees in a manner
similar to that of traditional health care providers. Funding
comes through establishment of a trust or a simple reserve
account. As with other health care plans, the employee may pay a
portion of the cost in premiums. Catastrophic coverage is usually
provided through a “stop loss” policy, a type of coinsurance
purchased by the company.

The plan may be administered directly by the company or through
an administrative services contract.

The advantages of self-insurance are listed below.

* Programs can be flexible. They are designed to reflect employee
needs, including medical and dental care, prescriptions and so
* Mandated benefit laws and state insurance premium taxes do not
affect these plans.
* The employer retains control over the timing and amount of funds
paid into the plan and can manage costs more directly.
* Administration of these plans can be more efficient.
* Over time, these plans can save money.

The drawbacks to self-insurance include the following.

* Health care is costly and heavy claims years may prove
extraordinarily expensive.
* Commitment for the long haul is necessary to achieve significant

Self-insurance can be a viable option for small businesses but it
should be undertaken only after careful study.

Balancing Cost, Quality and Accessibility

* Consider what you and your workers want in a health plan.
* Determine all costs associated with the plan.
* Investigate the quality of potential insurance carriers.
* Examine the quality of each plan, including the benefits and

– Hospital coverage (inpatient care).
– Outpatient services.
– Physical coverage.
– Substance abuse treatment.
– Prescriptions.

* Check on underwriting and other restrictions that may exclude you
from the health plan:

– Employee medical histories.
– Minimum employer contribution.
– Minimum participation by eligible employees and dependents.
– Waiting periods.
– Proof of employee status.
– Purchase of other benefits.
– Other limitations — what isn’t covered.

* Check on the extent to which your company can control costs:

– Prior review of hospital admissions to determine necessity of
– Concurrent review of hospital stays to confirm continuing need of
– Management programs for catastrophic cases that arrange for the
most cost-effective care.

Questions To Ask Before Signing a Benefits Contract

* Who is the insurance company?
* Is it committed to small business?
* How solvent is it? What is its rating?
* What is the carrier’s reputation for customer service?
* What is the choice of doctors and hospitals?
* How does the company manage health care costs?
* Who administers the plan?
* What information must the employer provide?
* How are the employees enrolled?

When Problems Arise

From time to time problems arise with benefit delivery. Patience
on the part of the provider, the employer and the employee
usually brings a resolution.

Occasionally, unusually prolonged and difficult problems develop
that do not yield to resolution. Such instances should be brought
to the attention of your state’s insurance department or
commission, which is responsible for regulating insurance

*1 Best Insurance Reports: Property-Casualty Ed. and Life-Health
Ed. Published annually by A.M. Best Company, Oldwick, N.J.


A financially secure retirement is a goal of all Americans. Since
many of us will spend one-fourth to one-fifth of our lives in
retirement, it is more essential than ever to begin preparations
at an early age. Most financial planners report that an
individual requires about 75 percent of his or her preretirement
income to maintain the same standard of living enjoyed during
one’s working years.

Social Security, employer-sponsored retirement programs and
personal savings are the three sources of postretirement income.

Social Security Benefits

Social Security provides retirement benefits for most persons
employed or self-employed for a set period of time (currently
40 quarters; about 10 years). Benefits paid at retirement,
traditionally age 65, are based on a person’s earnings history.
Payments may begin at age 62 at a reduced rate or, if delayed
until age 70, at an increased rate.

For a person with earnings equal to the U.S. average, the benefit
will be about 40 percent of pay. For someone with maximum
earnings, the benefit would be about 25 percent of the portion of
pay subject to Social Security tax.

Every worker should understand Social Security retirement
benefits. By completing Form SSA-7004, “Request for Social
Security Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement,” you can receive
a projection of benefits. Forms can be obtained through local
Social Security offices or by calling 1-800-772-1213.

Employer-Sponsored Retirement Plans

A retirement plan makes good sense and can attract and reward key
employees. The benefits and tax advantages of supplementing
Social Security with a qualified retirement plan are significant.
A qualified plan is one meeting Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
specifications. Currently, such contributions are tax deductible
and earnings accumulate on a tax-deferred basis. In addition,
benefits earned are not part of the participant’s taxable income
until received, and certain distributions are eligible for
special tax treatment.

Whether you are a sole proprietorship, a partnership or a
corporation (employing many people or only yourself as the
owner/employee), there are a wide range of options available.
These can range from simple plans, which you establish and
maintain, to complex versions, which require an actuary, attorney
or employee benefits consultant. Accountants, banks, insurance
and investment professionals, as well as other financial
institutions, can provide information on pension plan products. A
plan need not be complex or costly to establish. In fact, there
are several versions that you can establish without any outside

Depending on whether you are self-employed, a partnership or a
small corporation, the following plans are available:

* Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) — The simplest plan; for the
self-employed or for select employees.
* Keogh — A plan for partnerships or sole proprietors, offering
greater contribution limits than other types of plans.
* Simplified employee pension (SEP) — A plan for sole proprietors and
small businesses, offering flexibility and easy self-administration.
* Defined benefit — A retirement plan for businesses with older, more
highly paid employees.
* Profit sharing — A flexible plan based on profits and contributions
that can be discretionary from year to year.
* Money purchase — A method for companies employing a high percentage
of younger workers and desiring to make steady plan contributions.
* 401(k) — The most popular plan today, providing employees with the
ability to save for their retirement with pre-tax dollars. Offers
maximum flexibility for employers at minimal cost.

Individual Retirement Accounts

The simplest of all retirement plans is the individual retirement
account (IRA), authorized by Congress in 1974. An IRA is a
tax-favored savings plan that allows eligible participants to
make contributions with pre-tax dollars and defer taxation on
earnings until retirement.

There are several limitations to IRAs:

* Contributions cannot exceed the lesser of $2,000 per year or
100 percent of compensation ($2,250 for a spousal IRA).
* Contributions may be made only up to age 70 and deposits must be
made before filing individual taxes (April 15).
* The account holder may not use funds to purchase life insurance
or collectibles (except gold or silver coins issued by the U.S.
* If a person (or his or her spouse) is an active participant in an
employer-maintained retirement plan with income exceeding certain
levels ($25,000 for single persons or $40,000 for married
couples), the IRA contribution may be partially or totally

Businesses may sponsor IRA savings programs for employees.
Through payroll deduction, employees set aside small amounts for
deposit into an IRA contract. An employer can make IRA
contributions for all or select employees. In such instances, the
recipient’s reported annual taxable salary will include the IRA
contribution, although this amount would then be deducted
(conditions permitting) by the employee on his or her year-end
tax filing.

Keogh Plans

A Keogh (occasionally called “H.R. 10”) plan affords a
self-employed person — either a sole proprietor or a partner — most
of the retirement funding benefits available to the working owners
of a corporation. A self-employed person may take a tax deduction
for annual contributions to the plan on his or her behalf and on
behalf of any eligible employees.

Although the laws governing Keoghs once varied widely from the
retirement plan options for corporations, recent changes have
left only minor distinctions. Keogh plans follow rules basic to
either defined benefit or defined contribution corporate plans.
There are limits, but generous ones. For example, you cannot fund
a retirement payout that is greater than your self-employment
income or that tops a $112,221 annual cap (a figure adjusted
yearly for inflation).

You must establish plans by the end of the year (December 31) for
which you are making the contribution. Once established, you have
until the tax return filing date — including extensions — to make
the contribution.

Designing the Right Corporate Plan

Selecting the right pension plan for a corporation results from a
process of identifying business needs and expectations, including

* Need for flexibility.
* Current age of key employees.
* Current number of employees and plans for growth.
* Need for tax deductions (present/future).
* Maximization of retirement benefits.

Although there are many different types of retirement plan
options available to corporations, they fall into two general
categories: defined benefit plans and defined contribution plans.

The following pages provide a brief overview of these plans and
their benefits. Figure 1 offers a quick means of identifying the
plan that best suits your current needs.

Defined Benefit Plans

With this plan, the benefits an employee will receive are
predetermined by a specific formula — typically calculated by an
actuary annually. The promised benefit is tied to the employee’s
earnings, length of service or both. The employer is responsible
for making sure that the funds are available when needed (the
employer bears funding and investment risks of the plan).

Defined benefit plans are typically better for older employees
(usually age 45+). For example, these plans can provide the
ability to fund for years of employment before the inception of
the plan. While some contribution flexibility is available,
factors determining the cost of promised benefits (e.g., number
and ages of employees, rates of return on investments) will
mandate the level of required deposits to the plan.

The price of providing a higher degree of tax savings and being
able to rapidly shelter larger sums of retirement capital is
having to meet additional reporting requirements. Defined benefit
plans typically cost more to administer, requiring certifications
by enrolled actuaries, and approval of terminations by both the
IRS and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).

Defined Contribution Plans

Also known as individual account plans, defined contribution
plans specify the amount of funds placed in a participant’s
account (for example, 10 percent of salary). The amount of funds
accumulated and the investment gains or losses solely determine
the benefit received at retirement. The employer bears no
responsibility for investment returns, although the employer does
bear a fiduciary responsibility to select or offer a choice of
sound investment options.

There are several basic types of defined contribution plans,
including simplified employee pension plans, profit sharing
plans, money purchase plans, 401(k) and profit sharing plans.

Simplified Employee Pensions

A simplified employee pension (SEP) plan is ideal for the
self-employed or for small corporations as it requires minimum
paperwork and offers a maximum of flexibility. It is the only
employer plan requiring no IRS approval, no initial filings and
no annual reporting to the government.

Although SEPs are designed as pensions, they are actually IRAs.
Unlike regular IRAs, however, contributions are not limited to
$2,000. The total deferral can be up to $30,000 or 15 percent of
annual earnings (about 13 percent for self-employment income),
whichever is less.

Contributions must be made on a nondiscriminatory basis to all
employees who are at least age 21 and who have worked for any
part of three of the past five years earning a minimal amount —
$374 in 1992 and adjusted annually for inflation. Contributions
can vary from year to year — you may even skip entire years —
and must be paid no later than the due date of an employer’s
income tax return, including extensions. Once made, the entire
contribution is owned by the employee.

Complete specifications for the plan can be found in IRS Form
5305. The form itself serves as the plan document, requiring only
the insertion of business name, the checking of three boxes and a
signature. The form is not filed with the IRS, but rather copied
for all employees and then placed in the firm’s files.

Under a new type of SEP, called a Salary Reduction SEP (SAR-SEP),
employees can defer, or set aside, a portion of pay as a pre-tax
contribution. Deferred contributions, like other SEP
contributions, are excludable from the employee’s gross income
for calculating federal income tax. However, SAR-SEPs are allowed
only if fewer than 25 employees were employed during the
preceding year. In addition, periodic testing is required.

Profit Sharing Plans

Similar to a SEP, a profit sharing plan offers the flexibility of
making contributions — up to 15 percent of compensation paid to
all employees, but no more than $30,000 for any one individual.
Alternatively, rather than selecting a percentage, a flat amount
(for example, $100,000) could be allocated among eligible
employees. Contributions are keyed to the existence of profits,
although they may be possible even if the company suffers a loss
in the taxable year.

Profit sharing plans differ from SEPs in several distinct ways.
An employer can apply a vesting schedule to the company’s
contributions, based on an employee’s length of service with the
company. If an employee is terminated before becoming “fully
vested,” his or her funds will revert to the plan or be
reallocated among the remaining participants. In addition, profit
sharing plans permit the exclusion of part-time employees and can
be used for loan purposes.

Profit sharing plans, as all other qualified retirement plans,
require the preparation of formal trust documents as well as
annual tax filings. A standardized trust or prototype plan will
often satisfy requirements and will typically be less expensive
and simpler to operate than an individually designed plan.

Money Purchase Plans

With a money purchase plan, the employer is usually committed to
making annual contributions equal to a designated percentage of
each employee’s compensation. This percentage may not exceed
25 percent of earned income, with a maximum contribution of
$30,000 per individual. The contribution percentage must be the
same for all employees participating in the plan and
contributions must be made even in years in which there are no
net profits.

Unlike profit sharing plans, money purchase plans do not allow
for integration with Social Security. Integration is the ability
to set aside a larger proportion of the contribution for those
earning over the Social Security maximum wage base. A combination
of both profit sharing and money purchase plans provides optimal
flexibility and higher contribution limits.

401(k)/Profit Sharing Plans

The Revenue Act of 1978 added Section 401(k) to the Internal
Revenue Code and, since then, the growth of these tax-deferred
savings plans has been dramatic.

The basic idea of a 401(k) is simple: it is a profit sharing plan
adopted by an employer that permits employees to set aside a
portion of their compensation through payroll deduction for
retirement savings. The amounts set aside are not taxed to the
employee and are a tax deductible business expense for the

An employer’s discretionary matching contribution can provide
incentive for employee participation as well as serve as an
employee benefit. The employer can match any percentage of the
employees’ contributions. Employer contributions can be capped,
to limit costs, and a vesting schedule can be applied to employer
deposits (employees are always 100 percent vested in their own

For employees, the opportunity to reduce federal — and often state
and local — taxes through participation in a 401(k) plan offers
significant benefits. While savings are intended for retirement,
certain types of loans can provide employees with access to their
funds — employees repay borrowed principal plus interest to their
own account. From an employer’s standpoint, the 401(k) can be the
least expensive and most flexible of all retirement plans.

Special nondiscrimination tests apply to 401(k) plans, which may
limit the amount of deferrals that highly compensated employees
are allowed to make. As a result, a minimal employer contribution
may be required.

Employee Stock Ownership Plans

A special breed of qualified plan, an employee stock ownership
plan (ESOP), provides retirement benefits for employees. In
addition, an ESOP can be used as a market for company stock, for
financing the company’s growth, to increase the company’s cash
flow or as an estate planning tool.

ESOP funds must be primarily invested in employer securities with
provisions that are fairly similar to those of profit sharing
plans. Tax deductible contributions to the plan are used to buy
stock for eligible employees. On retirement, the employee may
take the shares or redeem them for cash.

Complicated rules must be adhered to in the establishment and
maintenance of an ESOP plan. Expert advice should be sought.

Where To Get Pension Information

While some plans offer flexibility from year to year and contri-
butions can cease at any time, others require a longer term
commitment. A pension professional can propose options to meet
your needs. Check for pension professionals (Yellow Pages under
“Pension”), accountants or attorneys, independent insurance agents,
banks, stockbrokers, or financial planners.

Questions To Ask Before Finalizing a Pension Plan

* Does the plan require a given level of contribution each year?
* Do the plan provisions (eligibility, hours of service and vesting
of employer contributions) meet current and future needs?
* What are the costs of establishing and administering a plan and
trust, including providing annual employee reports? For how long
are these costs guaranteed?
* What are the investment options offered? Which offer guarantees
and which do not. What is the 10-year historical performance of
the various investments?
* Are there any loads (charges) associated with deposits (front-end
charges) or surrenders (rear-end charges) from the plan?
* Can employees make individual investment selections and what
types of reports do participants receive?

Figure 1 – Which Employer-Sponsored Retirement Plan?

| Can you commit |
| to a given level of |
|contribution each year?|
| |
NO | | YES
| |
——————— ———————–
|Do you want to permit| |Are the key employee(s)|
|employees to make | | of the business |
|pretax deferrals? | | older than 45? |
——————— ———————–
| | | |
NO | | YES NO | | YES
| | | |
| | | ———————-
| ——————— | |Do you want to spend |
| | Under 25 employees? | | |more than 25% of pay |
| ——————— | |or $30,000 on your- |
| | | | |self or key employees?|
| | | | ———————-
| NO | | YES | | |
| | | | NO | | YES
| | | | | |
| | | ——————— |
| | | |Can you make the same| |
| | | |level of contribution| |
| | | | each year? | |
| | | ——————— |
| | | | | |
| | | NO | | YES |
| | | | | |
——— ——– ——— ——— ———- ——–
| SEP or | | | | | | Profit | | Money | | Defined |
| profit | | 401(k) | | SAR-SEP | | sharing | | purchase | | benefit |
| sharing | | | | | | plan | | plan | | plan |
| plan | | | | | | | | | | |
——— ——– ——— ——— ———- ———
| | | |
————————— —————————-
| |
| |
| |
| |

| |
| Do you want to maximize the proportion of contributions |
| for yourself and other highly compensated employees? |
| |
NO | | YES
| |
——————– ———————-
| Adopt standardized | | Integrate plan |
| plan provisions | | with Social Security |
——————– ———————-


To accommodate today’s many variations in family relationships,
life-styles and values, flexible compensation or “cafeteria”
benefit plans have emerged. In addition to helping meet employee
needs, cafeteria plans also help employers control overall
benefit costs.

Cafeteria plans offer employees a minimum level or “core” of basic
benefits. Employees are then able to choose from several levels
of supplemental coverage or different benefit packages. All
packages are of relatively equal value, but can be selected to
help employees achieve personal goals or meet differing needs,
such as health coverage (family, dental, vision), tax reduction
(thrift plans, salary reduction), retirement income (pension
plans) or specialized services (day care, financial planning,
legal services).

Careful planning and communication are the keys to the success of
flexible compensation. Employees must fully understand their
options to make choices of greatest benefit to them and their
families. Both employers and employees must fully understand the
tax consequences of the various options.


The government has certain requirements for qualified pension or
profit sharing plans, as well as for most health and welfare
plans. It is essential for you to stay current on developments
that may affect your plan. Even small changes in tax laws can
have a significant impact on your plan’s ability to help you and
your employees achieve your goals. Information on these
requirements is available from the IRS and from qualified
accountants and financial advisors.


The old concept of “two weeks with pay” has given way to a wide
variety of paid and unpaid leave plans for all businesses. Among
the typical options are

* Annual leave.
* Holidays (national and state).
* Sick leave.
* Personal leave (birthday, other reason of choice).
* Emergency leave.
* Compassionate leave (funeral, family illness).
* Religious observance.
* Community service (voting, jury duty, court witness, National
Guard, Civil Air Patrol, volunteer fire department).
* Education/training.
* Leave without pay.
* Leave of absence (paid or unpaid).
* Parental (formerly maternity) leave.

In a strict sense, paying people for not working is a costly,
unprofitable concept. However, time off from the grind is a
tradition of the American workplace, and rightly so. Benefits can
far outweigh costs. Among the many benefits for the employee are
rest, relaxation, a new perspective, travel, pursuit of hobbies
and release from daily tensions. The employer also benefits — the
employee returns refreshed from the break in daily routine,
possibly with new ideas and renewed energy for doing a better
job. Employers also can observe the performance of employees in
new situations, as they fill in for their vacationing coworkers,
potentially leading to better allocation of work force talents.

Eligibility for Leave

In determining employee eligibility for leave, an employer must
find answers to many questions, including the following.

* How much paid leave time can the company afford per year?
* How many categories of leave should there be?
* Can employees carry over unused leave from one year to the next?
If so, how much?
* Are there leave rights during probation?
* Who gets first choice of dates in scheduling annual leave? How
are conflicts resolved? By seniority?
* Can employees borrow leave in advance?
* At what point does extended/borrowed paid leave become unpaid
leave and extended/borrowed unpaid leave become unemployment?
* Are employees eligible for more leave after a certain number of
years with the company?

Employers must determine when eligibility for leave begins:
immediately? after the first year? Many employers establish a
paid annual leave schedule by declaring employees eligible for so
many hours leave after they have worked a specified number of
hours; for example, two hours leave for every 80 hours worked or
one day for so many weeks worked.

Limits on sick and other leave are vital. You should restrict
sick leave to illness or medical examinations and treatment. It
must not become an extension of annual leave. Accordingly, it is
wise to reserve the right to require physician certification of
an illness.

Although the vast majority of employees will not abuse time
allowed for compassionate, emergency or other leave categories,
clear policies should be established on requesting such leave and
on its duration.

Budget Considerations

Granting paid or unpaid leave is a costly benefit. Depending on
the nature of an employee’s work, you may need to require
overtime from other employees or hire temporary employees to
cover the absence. Extended leave situations pose special

Questions To Ask Before Finalizing a Leave Plan

* Is the business open on all holidays? If not, on which ones?
* If the business is open on holidays, do you work with full or
limited staff, paying them double time as may be required by law?
* How many hours/days are allowed as leave for voting, jury duty,
religious observance, funerals, etc?
* How are insured benefits handled during unpaid leave?
* Which state laws affect leave?


While all employees are usually eligible for benefits such as
health and other insurance, retirement plans and leave, key
employees have come to expect certain additional benefits related
to their increased levels of responsibility. Among the
perquisites employers may want to consider for top performers and
key, or even all, employees are

* Company automobile.
* Extra vacation.
* Special parking privileges.
* Personal expense accounts.
* Spouse travel on company business.
* Sabbaticals (with pay).
* Professional memberships.
* Professional publications.
* Loans/mortgages.
* Club memberships.
* Parking (depending on circumstances).
* Chauffeur.
* Estate planning.
* Legal services.
* Medical expense reimbursement.
* Travel clubs.
* Credit cards.
* Home entertainment allowance.
* Physical examinations/health screening.
* Physical exercise facilities.
* Executive dining room.
* Matched donations to universities, colleges and/or charities.
* Tuition programs.
* Dependent day care (on- or off-site).
* End-of-year bonus.
* Merchandise discounts.
* Sales commissions.
* Holiday gifts.
* Employee assistance programs (EAPs) (substance abuse, debt,
interpersonal relationships, psychological, financial, other
types of counseling).
* Service awards.
* Credit unions.

Like basic benefits, perquisites help attract and keep good
employees. You can balance the far higher cost of providing some
perquisites with expectations of increased production from the
employees who benefit.

Key employees responsible for generating contacts for new
business should receive consideration for company automobiles,
personal expense accounts, professional memberships and
publications, club memberships, spouse travel on company
business, credit cards, home entertainment allowances,
end-of-year bonuses and sabbaticals.

Sales staff responsible for keeping current customers satisfied
should receive consideration for company automobiles (if needed
for their duties), credit cards, personal expense accounts,
professional memberships and publications, sales commissions,
spouse travel on company business and end-of-year bonuses.

All employees should receive consideration for EAPs, physical
exercise facilities (if you have them), parking, tuition
programs, dependent day care, holiday gifts, service awards,
credit unions, matched donations to universities, colleges and/or
charities, physical examinations or health screenings when
offered and merchandise discounts.

Offer legal services and loans and mortgages on a case-by-case

Some perquisites, such as extra vacation, should be given only as
a reward for extraordinary service to your company.

You may want to consider employer-employee cost sharing of such
perquisites as physical exercise facilities, dependent day care,
parking and, perhaps, some health screening services.

Before beginning any program of perquisites, check current tax
law for treatment of each item:

* Can you, as the employer, deduct it as a business expense?
* Will it become taxable income for your employee?


Before you implement any benefit plan, you should ask yourself
some questions:

* How much are you willing to pay for this coverage?
* What kinds of benefits interest your employees? Do you want
employee input?
* What do you think a benefits plan should accomplish? Do you think
it is more important to protect your employees from economic
hardship now or in the future?
* Is a good medical plan more important than a retirement plan?
* Do you want to administer the benefits plan, or do you want the
administration done by an insurance carrier?
* What is your employee group like today? Can you project what it
might look like in the future?

You now have some basic benefits information as well as the basic
questions that need answers before you go benefit shopping for
your employees.

If you are serious about offering your employees a satisfactory
benefit plan, the next step may be to contact an insurance broker
or carrier, the local chamber of commerce or trade associations.
There may be off the shelf products that will suit your needs. A
benefit consultant or actuary can help you design a specialized
benefit program.

An adequate benefit program has become essential to today’s
successful business, large or small. With careful planning you
and your employees can enjoy good health and retirement
protection at a cost your business can afford.


U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)

The SBA offers an extensive selection of information on most
business management topics, from how to start a business to
exporting your products.

This information is listed in “The Small Business Directory”. For
a free copy contact your nearest SBA office.

SBA has offices throughout the country. Consult the U.S.
Government section in your telephone directory for the office
nearest you. SBA offers a number of programs and services,
including training and educational programs, counseling services,
financial programs and contract assistance. Ask about

– Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), a national
organization sponsored by SBA of over 13,000 volunteer business
executives who provide free counseling, workshops and seminars
to prospective and existing small business people.

– Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), sponsored by the SBA
in partnership with state and local governments, the educational
community and the private sector. They provide assistance,
counseling and training to prospective and existing business

– Small Business Institutes (SBIs), organized through SBA on more
than 500 college campuses nationwide. The institutes provide
counseling by students and faculty to small business clients.

For more information about SBA business development programs and
services call the SBA Small Business Answer Desk at 1-800-8-ASK-SBA

Other U.S. Government Resources
Many publications on business management and other related topics
are available from the Government Printing Office (GPO). GPO
bookstores are located in 24 major cities and are listed in the
Yellow Pages under the “bookstore” heading. You can request a
“Subject Bibliography” by writing to Government Printing Office,
Superintendent of Documents, Washington, DC 20402-9328.

Many federal agencies offer publications of interest to small
businesses. There is a nominal fee for some, but most are free.
Below is a selected list of government agencies that provide
publications and other services targeted to small businesses. To
get their publications, contact the regional offices listed in
the telephone directory or write to the addresses below:

– Consumer Information Center (CIC), P.O. Box 100 Pueblo, CO 81002
The CIC offers a consumer information catalog of federal

– Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
Publications Request
Washington, DC 20207
The CPSC offers guidelines for product safety requirements.

– U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
12th Street and Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250
The USDA offers publications on selling to the USDA.
Publications and programs on entrepreneurship are also available
through county extension offices nationwide.

– U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC)
Office of Business Liaison
14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW
Room 5898C
Washington, DC 20230
DOC’s Business Assistance Center provides listings of
business opportunities available in the federal government. This
service also will refer businesses to different programs and
services in the DOC and other federal agencies.

– U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
Public Health Service
Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857
Drug Free Workplace Helpline: 1-800-843-4971. Provides
information on Employee Assistance Programs.
National Institute for Drug Abuse Hotline:
1-800-662-4357. Provides information on preventing substance
abuse in the workplace.
The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information:
1-800-729-6686 toll-free. Provides pamphlets and resource
materials on substance abuse.

– U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)
Employment Standards Administration
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210
The DOL offers publications on compliance with labor laws.

– U.S. Department of Treasury
Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
P.O. Box 25866
Richmond, VA 23260
The IRS offers information on tax requirements for small

– U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Small Business Ombudsman
401 M Street, SW (A-149C)
Washington, DC 20460
1-800-368-5888 except DC and VA
703-557-1938 in DC and VA
The EPA offers more than 100 publications designed to help small
businesses understand how they can comply with EPA regulations.

– U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
200 Charles Street, SW
Washington, DC 20402
The FDA offers information on packaging and labeling
requirements for food and food-related products.

For More Information

A librarian can help you locate the specific information you need
in reference books. Most libraries have a variety of directories,
indexes and encyclopedias that cover many business topics. They
also have other resources, such as

– Trade association information
Ask the librarian to show you a directory of trade associations.

Associations provide a valuable network of resources to their
members through publications and services such as newsletters,
conferences and seminars.

– Books
Many guidebooks, textbooks and manuals on small business are
published annually. To find the names of books not in your local
library check “Books In Print”, a directory of books currently
available from publishers.

– Magazine and newspaper articles
Business and professional magazines provide information that is
more current than that found in books and textbooks. There are
a number of indexes to help you find specific articles in

In addition to books and magazines, many libraries offer free
workshops, lend skill-building tapes and have catalogues and
brochures describing continuing education opportunities.

About author

SMB Reviews
SMB Reviews 473 posts

SMBReviews is committed to providing small and mid-sized business owners with the information and resources they need to select the best service or product for their company.

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