Employees Can Negotiate Benefits with Small Business Employers

When applying for a job, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by questions: do you want a salary or hourly rate? Is it better to be an employee or a contractor? What is the commute time, and can you work from home?

The answers to these questions about benefits and workplace environment will shape your experience with a company. Despite that, many workers underestimate the importance of a great benefits package.

Healthcare, retirement contributions, stocks options and profit sharing, and paid time off can make the difference between a good and great workplace experience. As a new or long-term employee, is it time to analyze your benefits?

Types of Benefits

It’s hard to know what to ask for if you aren’t sure about what’s available. Here are some common benefits options you’ll want to look into.

Health Insurance

Health insurance helps pay for primary physician check-ups, specialist services, emergency room visits, prescriptions, and vaccinations. According to a study by Clutch, most employees say that this is the most important benefit of all, so make sure you know what you have access to as a current or future employee.

You should also investigate the availability of vision and dental plans, which are usually separate from your main healthcare plan.

Paid Time Off

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average full-time worker gets 10 holidays off with pay and 9.4 vacation days off with pay. Check to see how your time off package compares.

Unpaid time off is also a possibility. If you plan on starting a family, caring for a sick parent, or getting surgery, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) states that employers are required by law to give an employee 12 weeks off unpaid leave over a 12-month period.

However, some employers already do offer paid family leave benefits.

Severance Pay

If you happen to get terminated from your position, some companies offer severance pay.

An example severance package would include one week’s pay per year that you worked for the company and/or healthcare benefits for a short period of time.

Overtime/Holiday Pay

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) states that if an employee works over 40 hours in a week, the employee must be paid 1½ times their rate. (However, managerial, supervisory, or professional workers are not included in this provision.)

However, employers aren’t required to pay extra for working on a holiday, unless you have a contract that specifically addresses holiday pay.

Full-time employees who do get holidays off from work are legally entitled to an “in lieu of” holiday. This means that when a holiday falls on a non-workday, such as a Saturday or Sunday, the holiday will be acknowledged on the closest workday before or after the non-workday (either Friday or Monday).

The bottom line: receiving more than 1 ½ times your pay rate and getting holiday time off (or extra pay on holidays) are certainly perks worth discussing.

Profit Sharing and Stock Options

Some employers offer to sell their workers stock in the company at a lower price. Not only does this allow you to feel that you own part of the company, but when stock prices (hopefully) rise, you could make a considerable profit.

The Extras: Food, Fitness, and Housing Allowances

The rise of the tech industry has meant the proliferation of new work perks, which companies like Google and Facebook have made famous. Snacks, meals at meetings, fitness center memberships, childcare provisions, housing allowances, and the ability to work from home are all possibilities.

Sit down and calculate these costs to see what you spend in each category. For example, it might be worth a small pay cut to work from home if you can save money on gas, tolls, and wear and tear on your car. (Plus, you’ll avoid torturous traffic.)

Consider These Benefits for a Potential or New Job

If you’re starting a new job, pay special attention to what benefits you’re being offered and how easy it will be to actually use them.

Say you’re trying to decide if you should take a lower-paying job that offers great health insurance benefits and stock options, or another position with a higher salary, but no health or stock options.

Here are some questions that you should consider asking to determine which will pay out more in the long run:

  • Who does the health insurance cover? Just me, or my spouse and dependents as well?
  • What are the retirement savings options? How much does the company contribute?
  • What is the vacation time like, and is it paid? Does vacation time roll over to the next year, or is it use-it-or-lose-it time?
  • Will I be able to opt into any extra benefits, like life insurance/accident insurance?
  • Does the company pay for further training or education opportunities like professional development courses, workshops or online classes?
  • My spouse already has great healthcare coverage. Can I opt out and get an increase in pay?

Negotiating Benefits for Current Employees

It’s never easy to approach your boss and talk about a raise or increasing your benefits. The key here is polished negotiating skills.

For example, if you work for a company with 50 employees or less, your employer is not required to provide health insurance. However, let’s say you want to negotiate healthcare benefits into your new contract. You can present your argument by sharing that there are many benefits to a company providing health insurance.

  • First, float the idea of benefits to your supervisor. What does he/she think? Is it financially feasible for your employer to offer benefits?
  • Next, come up with a list of specific, realistic benefits you want.
  • Try wooing your HR director (or whoever is in charge of HR) with facts and statistics like:
    • Health insurance is tax deductible.
    • You’ll attract a better pool of employees who need and appreciate this necessity.
    • You’ll have a healthier group of employees through preventative care, which will result in less sick time and understaffing.
    • Current employees will develop greater company loyalty.
  • Finally, don't be confrontational; approach this discussion as if you're working together to build a benefits plan. After all, you still want to walk away with a healthy relationship, and you don’t want to come across as greedy or unappreciative.

Discussing benefits with your employer may seem like you’re walking a fine line between expressing your opinion and stepping on HR’s toes, so think this process through and do your homework.

When you approach it as wanting what’s best for you and the company, then you have the best shot at reaching an agreement you like.