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How to create a voluntary benefits program for your company

Office managers who work at businesses that don’t provide many benefits (or none at all), can help their company and their coworkers by helping start a voluntary benefits plan.

Voluntary benefits are those that aren’t offered directly by the employer, but allow employees to purchase a variety of benefits at a more affordable group price through the company’s insurance provider. Not only does a voluntary benefits program help out employees, it can also reduce payroll costs for employers.

For example, employees can purchase insurance plans such as dental, vision, life, disability, and critical illness. They can also purchase personal benefits such as pet insurance, concierge services, gym memberships and other plans. If these benefits are deducted from the employee’s paychecks, they can help employees reduce their income taxes and employers reduce payroll taxes.

Finally, voluntary benefits can help attract better employees and retain workers longer, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Here are the basic steps to begin creating a voluntary benefits program for your company.

  1. Talk to your company’s insurer

    Even if your company does not offer any employee health insurance, it probably has a general liability insurance plan. Ask the insurer if it also sells voluntary benefits. If not, ask for a recommendation from the insurer. If your company’s insurance company doesn’t have a reference, ask the person who handles your payroll if he or she uses a payroll service. If so, ask the payroll service if it works with any insurance benefits providers. If that is a dead end, Google “voluntary benefits providers.” Many of these companies are not insurance companies, they are benefits brokers.

  2. Talk to one or more providers

    After you have found two or three insurance providers who offer voluntary benefits to small businesses, contact them and ask the following questions:

    • Does our company meet the minimum number of employees for your program?
    • What specific insurance benefits do you offer? Look for companies that offer the following types of insurance: supplemental health,* accidental death and dismemberment, cancer, critical illness, hospital indemnity, dental, vision, disability income, long-term care, personal travel accident, pet health, life, auto, homeowner’s.
    • *Voluntary benefits do not include full health insurance programs.
    • What types of non-insurance (“soft”) benefits do you offer? These can include: identity theft protection, legal services, personal finance counseling, concierge services, retail and ticket discounts, gym memberships.
    • What paperwork is involved?
    • Is there a cost to our company to create and offer a voluntary benefits program?
    • How much money can our company save offering voluntary benefits?
    • What questions should we expect from our employees?
    • Do you help with employee education about the program?
    • Do you have any materials we can share with management and employees?
    • Are the plans portable?
    • Can part-time and telecommuting employees participate?
    • Can family members get policies?
    • Do any policies have age limits?
    • Is there an enrollment window?
    • What about preexisting conditions?

    One of your main goals when choosing a voluntary benefits provider is to find one that leaves your company with little or no administrative work. Many voluntary benefits providers do the setup work, enrollment, payroll and claims work for you. Employees do not use a paper enrollment system, instead taking ownership of their benefits and signing up on their own, online.

  3. Meet with management

    Once you have collected your information, review it with the company’s owner, financial person or other final decision makers to see if they want to move forward. Let them know the process, cost to the company, and financial advantages (such as reduced payroll taxes). Other positives for the company include improved employee recruiting and retention.

  4. Survey your employees

    If the company owner or management people are interested in moving forward with a voluntary benefits program, survey employees about their interest in buying voluntary benefits. Let them see the list of benefits that will be available and an employee’s cost for each one. Let them know how they will pay for any benefits they opt to buy (such as a direct deduction from their paychecks) and if they will have a tax savings if they buy these benefits. Create a list of the benefits they want and the number of people who might sign up for each one, which you can present to the benefits company you are working with. Tell employees which (if any) benefits are portable, meaning they can continue their policies if they find a job with another company or retire.

  5. Get bids from benefits companies

    Once you have finalized your talks with management and employees, contact the benefits providers you previously talked to and ask them to put together a formal proposal for providing your company with voluntary employee benefits. Choose the plan that best suits your needs and discuss with the winning provider what help they can give you rolling out the program. Most benefits providers will provide help with introducing a program and provide employees with continuing information and updates, as well as a toll-free number to answer personal questions.

  6. Roll out the program

    Once you have your new benefits program in place, announce it to employees. Your benefits provider might send a representative to help explain the plan, or offer an expert via a conference call or Skype meeting. Have printed materials, brochures and signup information available. Include a description of your voluntary benefits program as part of your interviewing process with potential new hires.

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