Don’t make these expensive employee benefits mistakes

Employee Benefits

Don’t make these expensive employee benefits mistakes

Legal Matters

Complications quickly arise as soon as business begins offering benefits, however. That’s because key benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans fall under government scrutiny, and “it is very easy to make mistakes in setting up a benefits plan,” says Kathleen Meagher, an attorney specializing in benefits at Kirkpatrick Lockhart LLP.

And don’t think nobody will notice. The IRS can discover in an audit what you are doing doesn’t comply with regulations. So can the U.S. Department of Labor, which has been beefing up its audit activities of late. Either way, a goof can be very expensive. “You can lose any tax benefits you have enjoyed, retroactively, and penalties can also be imposed,” Meagher says.
The biggest mistake? Leaving employees out of the plan. Examples range from exclusions of part-timers to failing to extend benefits to clerical and custodial staff. A rule of thumb is that if one employee gets a tax-advantaged benefit–meaning one paid for with pretax dollars–the same benefit must be extended to everyone. There are loopholes that may allow you to exclude some workers, but don’t even think about trying this without expert advice.

Such complexities mean its good advice never to go this route alone. You can cut costs by doing preliminary research yourself, but before setting up any benefits plan, consult a lawyer or a benefits consultant. An upfront investment of perhaps $1,000 could save you far more money down the road by helping you sidestep expensive potholes.

Expensive Errors

Providing benefits that meet employee needs and mesh with all the laws isn’t cheap–benefits probably add 30 to 40 percent to base pay for most employees–and that makes it crucial to get the most from these dollars. But this is exactly where many small businesses fall short because often their approach to benefits is riddled with costly errors that can get them in financial trouble with their insurers or even with their own employees. The most common mistakes:

  • Absorbing the entire cost of employee benefits. Fewer companies are footing the whole benefits bill these days. According to a survey of California companies by human resources management consulting firm William M. Mercer, 91 percent of employers require employee contributions toward health insurance, while 92 percent require employees to contribute toward the cost of insuring dependents. The size of employee contributions varies from a few dollars per pay period to several hundred dollars monthly, but one plus of any co-payment plan is it eliminates employees who don’t need coverage. Many employees are covered under other policies–a parent’s or spouses, for instance–and if you offer insurance for free, they’ll take it. But even small co-pay requirements will persuade many to skip it, saving you money.
  • Covering non-employers. Who would do this? Lots of business owners want to buy group-rate coverage for their relatives or friends. The trouble: If there is a large claim, the insurer may want to investigate. And that investigation could result in disallowance of the claims, even cancellation of the whole policy. Whenever you want to cover somebody who might not qualify for the plan, tell the insurer or your benefits consultant the truth.
  • Sloppy paperwork. In small businesses, administering benefits is often assigned to an employee who wears 12 other hats. This employee really isn’t familiar with the technicalities and misses a lot of important details. A common goof: Not enrolling new employees in plans during the open enrollment period. Most plans provide a fixed time period for open enrollment. Bringing an employee in later requires proof of insurability. Expensive litigation is sometimes the result. Make sure the employees overseeing this task stays current with the paperwork and knows that doing so is a top priority.
  • Not telling employees what their benefits cost. “Most employees don’t appreciate their benefits, but that’s because nobody ever tells them what the costs are,” says PRO’s Silverstein. Many experts suggest you annually provide employees with a benefits statement that spells out what they’re getting and at what cost. A simple rundown of the employee’s individual benefits and what they cost the business is very powerful.
  • Giving unwanted benefits. A workforce composed largely of young, single people doesn’t need life insurance. How to know what benefits employee’s value? You can survey employees and have them rank benefits in terms of desirability. Typically, medical and financial benefits, such as retirement plans, appeal to the broadest cross-section of workers.


Explore what Employee Benefits options make sense for your business,
contact Vermillion Financial Advisors today.

Request Appointment

« Health Insurance Employee Benefits

Business Services »