You can offer voluntary benefits to your employees at no direct cost to you. And, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be a big company to offer them — some plans require an employer to have a minimum of just two to five employees to qualify and others have no minimum requirement. Here’s all you need to know about a voluntary benefits plan and what it can do for your employees and your business.
What are voluntary benefits?
Sometimes called supplemental insurance or employee-paid benefits, voluntary benefits are offered by the employer through the workplace where employees can choose to buy them in addition to the core employee benefits they may get as part of a benefits package.
Payment options are typically flexible. To suit their budget, companies can choose whether voluntary employee benefits are:
- Fully employee-funded
- Part-funded by both employee and employer
In their Voluntary Benefits and Services (VBS) survey, Willis Towers Watson highlighted four critical life needs that voluntary benefits fulfill:
- Health – typically helping employee well-being, while minimizing health risk at a reasonable cost
- Wealth accumulation – protecting income and assets (Willis Towers Watson calls this one Wealth, but arguably a more relevant term is “Lifestyle”)
- Security – protecting our survivors, vulnerable people or even people’s identities
- Personal – products that cover what’s important to the individual interests and needs of the person
What voluntary benefits are available?
There’s a huge range of voluntary insurance plans out there in the market. Some examples include disability insurance, accident insurance, dental insurance or ‘softer’ benefits that may include retail or ticket discounts, gym memberships or concierge services like collecting dry cleaning.
According to Willis Towers Watson’s 2013 survey, the most common voluntary benefits under the four banners of health, wealth, security and personal are:
Regular eye exams help maintain healthy vision and are the first line of defense in detecting more serious eye conditions, such as glaucoma, high blood pressure and diabetes. Vision insurance typically helps pay for eye exams, glasses and contact lenses. They may also offer discounts on treatments such as laser eye surgery or eyecare accessories.
Dental insurance can provide benefits for both routine and more expensive dental procedures that are not covered by most health insurance plans. They typically include cleaning, fillings, sealants, tooth removal, crowns and dentures – and may also provide benefits for regular dental appointments.
Accident insurance plans can help offset the unexpected medical expenses that may result from a covered accidental injury. Typically, they help cover some of the expenses for initial care, surgery, transportation and lodging, and follow-up care.
Critical Illness insurance
Critical illness insurance can complement major medical coverage by providing a lump-sum benefit for an employee diagnosed with a covered critical illness, such as heart attack, stroke, coronary artery bypass surgery, end-stage renal failure or major organ transplant – among others. Benefits are typically paid directly to the employee, so they can be used where they’re most needed.
Hospital indemnity insurance
Hospital confinement indemnity insurance provides a lump-sum benefit to help with out-of-pocket costs related to a hospital stay. This may include outpatient surgery, diagnostic tests, doctor’s appointments and emergency room trips.
Disability insurance replaces a percentage of an employee’s income if they become disabled as a result of a covered accident or sickness, to help them continue to make ends meet while they’re out of work.
Legal typically gives employees access to qualified attorneys at a reduced cost. Coverage usually applies to the most common personal legal matters including family, vehicle, real estate, civil lawsuits and wills.
Financial counseling helps employees manage their finances. Traditionally, this has mainly focused on retirement plans, but as baby boomers approach the end of their working careers, financial counseling now also includes a range of topics such as credit card debt, investment advice, tax advice, saving and budgeting.
Life insurance pays out a lump sum to help provide financial protection for an employee’s family members in the event of the employee’s death. Coverage can be updated to reflect changes in life such as getting married, buying a home or having a child. Most plans offer spouse and child coverage.
Personal travel accident insurance
Travel accident insurance is designed to provide extra protection while travelling internationally, supplementing coverage typically provided by an accidental death or dismemberment policy. It typically covers emergency medical and legal fees.
Identity theft protection
Identify theft protection does not cover any financial loss as the result of identity theft. Instead, it may include monitoring public records and alerting the employee to any fraudulent use of their personal details, including attempted loans and credit applications. It also covers the cost of repairing the person’s credit history.
Personal voluntary benefits are those softer offerings that help meet an employee’s particular lifestyle needs. These may include:
- Discount merchandise
- Automobile, homeowners or pet insurance
- Concierge services – anything from help booking holidays, shopping, finding tradesmen or picking up dry cleaning
- Umbrella insurance – extra liability insurance against claims and lawsuits above and beyond that typically provided by homeowners or automobile insurance
Identity theft protection, critical illness, pet insurance and even student loan repayment programs are likely to see the fastest growth in the next few years.