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Cost of Employee Benefits for a Small Business

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By Next Insurance Staff
Jun 2, 2020 min read

If you’re a small business owner, it might seem cost prohibitive to offer employee benefits. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, benefits account for approximately 30% of overall employee compensation costs, with a national average of $11.48 per hour. Yet small business employee benefits are essential to growing your company. Some benefits are mandated by law, while others will help you attract and retain top talent. Here is what you need to know about the cost of benefits for small businesses.

What Are the Most Popular Employee Benefits for a Small Business?

Employee benefits fall into three basic categories. Mandated benefits are required by law. Standard benefits are not required, but they are common enough that top tier employees may expect them. Fringe benefits are low-cost options customized to your industry or organization, such as free meals for restaurant workers or flexible schedules. Providing a mix of these types of benefits can bring down your small business employee benefits cost while keeping your team happy and engaged.

Mandated Benefits

  • Workers compensation: Workers compensation insurance protects employees who are injured at work or develop a work-related illness. It is mandatory in nearly every state, though each state’s requirements are slightly different. Next Insurance can help you get the coverage you need with plans starting at just $14 per month, and we make it easy to add this protection to your general business insurance policy.
  • Unemployment insurance: Unemployment insurance pays those who are temporarily out of work. It’s governed by a complex web of federal and state laws, so check with your state workforce agency to ensure you are in compliance.
  • Social Security and Medicare contributions: Employers are required to pay a portion of employee contributions to Social Security and Medicare, and to withhold the employee’s portion of these contributions from each paycheck. 
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): The FMLA requires employers with 50 or more employees to allow employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to care for themselves or a relative with a serious health condition. This leave can also be used for pregnancy-related conditions or to care for a newborn or newly adopted child. You must return the employee to the same or an equivalent position at the end of the leave period. Special rules apply to military families. Note that some states require this leave to be provided even if the employer has fewer than 50 employees.
  • Time off for jury duty or voting: All employers are required to provide time off for jury duty, and many states require employers to give employees time off to vote. Depending on your jurisdiction, you may or may not be required to pay employees for this time off. Some states also require employers to provide time off for employees appearing as a witness in a court case.

Standard Employee Benefits

Standard benefits are common in today’s workplace, and many employees expect them to be provided. They are not mandated by law, and you are free to choose which, if any, you want to provide. A typical benefits package for small business might include:

  • Paid time off
  • Health insurance
  • Dental and vision insurance
  • Life and disability insurance
  • Retirement account such as a 401(k)

The cost of these employee benefits for a small business can vary widely depending on exactly which options you select. For example, many employers keep health insurance costs down by splitting premiums with the employee on a 50-50 basis. You might also choose to provide a minimal amount of life insurance at your expense while allowing employees to purchase more at your negotiated group rate.

Setting up payroll deductions for employees’ share of standard benefits on a pre-tax basis can help save money for both you and your employee by reducing your tax liability. Talk to your payroll company or tax lawyer to ensure that you do this properly and in full compliance with the relevant laws.

Fringe Benefits

Fringe benefits are extra perks that can help build employee loyalty. They typically cost little to provide and are highly customized to your company. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Free or discounted services from your company (meals, massages, or whatever service you provide to customers)
  • Flexible work schedules
  • Remote work options
  • Annual holiday party
  • Merit-based bonuses
  • On-site gym, childcare facility or other services

Fringe benefits can be extremely valuable for small businesses, especially if you can’t yet afford to provide a typical benefits package for small business. Feel free to brainstorm creative ideas that make sense for your organization.

How to Choose Employee Benefit Plans for Small Business

For small businesses, it is generally best to choose a company to administer your employee benefits. Many of these companies will also handle payroll. Since there are so many complex laws and regulations surrounding benefits, it only makes sense to leave it to the experts. However, it’s important to choose a company that lets you customize your benefits program in the way that makes sense for you. There are three basic ways to provide benefits:

  • Pre-set packages: Your benefits company will likely offer you a few pre-set benefits packages to choose from. This is the easiest, as you can compare packages side by side, including final pricing.
  • Custom picked benefits: This option allows you to go through a menu of benefits and build your own package. It can be a great way to create a package that is unique to your company and reflects your organization’s values and way of conducting business.
  • Employee-selected benefits: Not all employees are the same. Some are young singles with no financial obligations. Some have kids, while others are caring for aging parents. Some prioritize gym memberships, while others value retirement planning. Employee-selected benefits are a great way to cater to your employees as individuals. In this type of package, you set a monthly dollar amount for employee benefits and make that money available tax-free to your employees. They can then spend it on health insurance, cell phone bills, education or whatever benefits they value most.

The Bottom Line

The cost of benefits for small businesses can seem daunting, but there are numerous ways to keep costs under control while adding value for your employees. Set spending limits, look for creative ways to get the most value out of your benefits dollars, and add low-cost fringe benefits when possible. With a bit of effort, you can create a benefits package that truly works for both you and your employees.

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By Next Insurance Staff
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