What are employee benefits, and how can they help me?

These days, employers are offering more than just a base salary to reward employees for their hard work.  Many employers offer their employees a variety of benefits, some of which we’ll go into below.  While most of these are optional benefits, you may want to talk to a financial adviser prior to making any decisions that could have an impact on your finances.

Health Insurance

Some employers may offer partially or fully subsidised (paid for) health insurance if they have an affiliation with a health fund.  This could include hospital only cover, extras cover or both.

Purchased Annual Leave

In addition to your normal annual leave entitlements (which is normally 4 weeks for a full-time employee), some workplaces offer the ability to purchase extra annual leave so you can go on longer holidays.  This works by the employer dividing the cost of the extra leave (the amount you’d be paid if you were working) over a longer period (from a month to a year, for example), and taking it out of your pay each pay cycle (when you get paid).

For example, if your normal pay is $1000 per fortnight ($52,000 per year), and you want to purchase 1 week of additional leave and spread the cost over the year, your pay would decrease by around $10 per fortnight ($500 divided by 52).

It is important you talk to a financial adviser prior to purchasing extra annual leave to ensure it is appropriate for your situation.

Salary Sacrificing

Salary sacrificing, or Salary Packaging, allows you to make purchases with your pre-tax income, helping you save tax.  Below are some examples of different things you can salary sacrifice, with the most common being cars:

  • Cars
  • Laptops
  • Mobile Phones
  • Superannuation

If you work for a non-profit or charity, you may also be eligible to salary sacrifice some general expenses without incurring Fringe Benefits Tax.

Of all the benefit types, salary sacrificing is the most important benefit to get financial advice for, in fact some employers will explicitly require proof that you’ve received financial advice, or will get you to sign a waiver saying you didn’t get it.

Staff Discounts

Some employers will give you a discount for products or services they provide (for example, supermarkets).  Other employers may enrol in a program where employees can get discounts at various businesses, or offer discounts through their suppliers.

Employee Assistance Programs

Employee Assistance Programs gives access to counselling and crisis support to employees and their immediate family.  Sessions are generally provided in-person or over the phone at no cost to the employee.  This can be beneficial as there is usually a very short waiting period compared to seeing a psychologist or other mental health professional.

Penalty Rates

Penalty rates are usually given to employees who work outside normal business hours, and consist of an additional percentage of the normal hourly rate, often called a loading.  Loading can range from 15% for weekday after hours work to 150% for Sundays and public holidays.

Employees may also be paid a flat rate for being on call, which is where an employee is available to work at short notice if required, but not actually working.  When an employee is called out to work, they may also receive a loading depending when they worked.  Some employers may also pay a minimum rate for a call-out, for example someone called out on the weekend may receive a minimum of two hours pay for work they’ve done, even if they worked less.

Training

Employers may opt to pay for training relating to the job you’re in, or to further progress your career within the company.  This could be industry specific training or training through a TAFE or University.  It is quite common for employers of apprentices to pay TAFE fees upon successful completion of a unit.  Some employers may add a condition that the employee must stay with the company for a period of time, otherwise they may need to pay back the company for the cost of the training provided.

Parking

While not common, some employers will offer on-site parking for free, or will reimburse you if you need to pay for parking, especially if you’re visiting the site of a customer.

Conclusion

The list above are just some of the benefits employers are offering their employees.  Some places may also offer other benefits that we haven’t covered here, such as childcare or bonuses.  While some benefits may be automatic, your employer should give you information about how to claim extra benefits that aren’t (if they don’t, you can ask them).