Understanding Your Employee Benefit Plan & Life Insurance Through Work


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In This Article

Starting a new job can be exciting, stressful, and even a bit disorienting. So during the scramble to learn your new role, set up your email account, and decipher your team’s complex file naming conventions, you might not have time to read about your employee benefit plan and life insurance coverage. 

Reviewing your work benefits may not be your idea of fun bedtime reading. However, your benefit plan is an important part of your compensation package from your employer. And when you use it strategically, it can save you a good chunk of money and help to protect your family financially

That’s why it pays to understand what’s part of your benefit plan and where you might need to top it up to ensure your family has enough coverage (preferably before you’re racing to submit claims before the year-end).

In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about your employee benefit plan and group life insurance. 

What Is An Employee Benefit Plan and Group Benefits?

When you start a full-time job, an employee benefit plan is typically part of your compensation package. Not to be confused with employee awards and recognition, employee benefits can include sick days, dental insurance, vision care, health insurance, group RRSP planning programs, and more.

It’s fairly standard practice for group benefits to include some form of group life insurance. This just means your employer has a plan that covers their “group” a.k.a their staff. Coverage is typically one to two times that of your annual salary. 

There are some part-time jobs, however, that offer employee benefit plans. It never hurts to ask if there is an employee benefit plan in place, even if you’re less than 40 hours a week!

Who Chooses Your Employee Benefit Plan?

Paying for employee benefits and insurance is a bit like financing a wedding: The person footing the bill gets to call the shots. In the case of your workplace benefits plan, this “person” is your employer. 

When setting up a benefits program, your employer selects an insurance company to serve as the benefits provider. Your employer pays all or a portion of the premiums for the benefits coverage. The provider, in comparison, is responsible for administering the plan and processing claims. 

Your employer will also select a specific benefits plan to sponsor for all eligible employees. It’s the plan that will determine what benefits you get as an employee and how these benefits might change depending on your salary or employment status (e.g., temporary vs. permanent position). 

What’s Included in Your Employee Benefits Plan?

person sitting a desk reading a book

Many employee benefits plans include both healthcare benefits and group life insurance (among other possible benefits). Here’s what you need to know about each of these two perks:

Healthcare Benefits

What type of healthcare is typically covered? 

In Canada, we’re lucky to have universal health care that’s funded by our provincial governments. But while filling a prescription or visiting the dentist, you’ve probably learned that the government doesn’t cover every medical expense. This is where an employee benefits plan with healthcare coverage comes in handy. 

When you have workplace healthcare benefits, your plan will cover expenses that aren’t covered by provincial healthcare plans. The specific expenses that you’re covered for will depend on the plan your employer has selected. But typically, it might include medical, drug, dental, and vision expenses. 

Because your coverage depends on the plan you have, it’s important to review the pamphlet or PDF you got from your employer about your benefits. This way, you’re less likely to end up on the hook for a sky-high bill that you thought would be covered.

When reviewing your healthcare benefits, pay close attention to the details. Your plan’s provider might limit the number of expenses they’ll cover over a period of time (e.g., one dental cleaning every six months). They might also limit how much of the cost they’ll cover (e.g., 80% up to a maximum of $300). This way, you’ll know what you can count on your plan to cover and what you’ll have to pay for yourself. 

What isn’t always covered?

Depending on your benefits plan, there are some healthcare expenses that you might not have coverage for. These may include paramedical services (e.g., massage therapy, physical therapy, and mental health services), private hospital rooms, and out-of-province medical care. 

In some cases, your employer might offer a flexible benefits plan or health care spending account. If they do, you might receive credits that you can spend as you’d like on eligible expenses. You may also have the option to pay for additional benefits at discounted group rates. 

Keep in mind that even if your healthcare benefits are more basic, they’re still incredibly helpful. You’d probably have to shell out a good chunk of change to get the same kind of coverage on your own. And most benefits plans will cover dependents, such as spouses and kids, too. This can give you some serious relief (both financial and emotional) when you find out how much braces, certain medications, and glasses can cost. 

How do you know when you need more healthcare coverage?

Even the best employee benefits plans won’t cover every medical expense. So depending on your family’s needs, you might need to purchase additional healthcare insurance on your own.

What’s the best way to figure out if you need more coverage? 

Scrutinize your employee benefits plan to understand exactly what it covers. Then, compare this to your family’s annual medical expenses (and any that you’re fairly likely to have in the future). If you find that your family has a sizable chunk of medical expenses that aren’t covered by your plan, you may need to buy additional coverage outside of work.

It’s also important to remember that your employee benefits plan is tied to your employment status. So if you leave your job, you’ll lose your coverage and need to find another way to fund healthcare expenses. In some cases, you might have the option to convert your employee benefits into individual coverage. Talk to a human resources representative at your company to find out more.

Life Insurance

child hugging mother by a window

As we touched on before, some companies offer group life insurance as a part of their benefits package. But, this isn’t always the case. 

Is life insurance coverage always guaranteed? 

Life insurance is insurance that protects your family financially in case you die and your income is no longer available to support them. When you have life insurance through your workplace, it’s typically group life insurance. Group life insurance is a life insurance policy that covers all eligible employees at your place of work.

If you’re lucky, your employer might cover the entire cost of your group life insurance plan. As a result, you’ll get coverage from this plan without having to fork over a slice of your paycheque. In other cases, you may have to contribute to the policy to help your employer pay for the policy’s premiums. Your employer will typically do this automatically by allocating a percentage of your salary to this cost. 

Note that even if you have to contribute to the plan’s premiums, you’ll typically pay much less for this coverage than you would if you bought the same amount of coverage independently. You’ll also get covered without having to undergo extensive underwriting or medical testing. So if you’re someone who would have a hard time qualifying for a standard life insurance policy, taking advantage of your workplace policy is a great way to get some coverage. 

Keep in mind, though, that not every workplace includes life insurance in its employee benefits plan. It’s also possible that your employer’s group life insurance covers some employees only (e.g., permanent but not temporary employees). Check your plan details or consult with human resources to find out if you have coverage. 

How much life insurance do you typically get through work? 

Even if you do have group life insurance coverage, it tends to be pretty limited. Typically, your coverage amount will be a multiple of your salary (usually 1x to 2x your annual salary). But it could be a flat rate instead. 

Having life insurance coverage that rounds out to one or two full years of pay may seem like a big chunk of change. But it means that if you die, your family will have to figure out how to live without your income within 1–2 years of your death. 

When you applied for that mortgage with your spouse or bought that summer cottage, you probably assumed you’d both be around to contribute to expenses. So unless your family is prepared to seriously scale back their lifestyle when you die, group life insurance coverage probably won’t be enough. 

How do you know when you need more life insurance coverage?

If you have life insurance coverage through work, it’s important to understand how it compares to your family’s financial needs. This way, you’ll know whether you need additional coverage to fully protect your family – and how much. 

If you’re single and don’t have any dependents, you probably don’t even need life insurance coverage to begin with (because you don’t have anyone you need to protect financially). So you can likely save yourself the trouble of looking for additional coverage on your own. Lucky you!

But what if you have a partner and kids? 

If you and your partner have big salaries and lots of money in savings, your family might be able to get by with the small amount of coverage you have through work. However, most families have debt and expenses that far exceed their current savings. So if one partner died, a group life insurance policy wouldn’t cut it. 

To estimate the amount of coverage you need, identify your family’s savings and sources of income that would continue to exist after you die. Then, calculate your debt (e.g., a mortgage) and expenses (e.g., groceries, utility bills, and extracurricular activities). The gap between the two represents the total amount of life insurance you’d need to protect your family financially. If this amount is more than the coverage you have through work, you’ll want to top up your coverage by buying an additional policy on your own. 

If you want to make estimating your coverage needs even easier, use an online tool like PolicyMe’s Life Insurance Calculator. 

Just like your workplace healthcare benefits, your group life insurance coverage will end if you leave your job. So if you’re planning on making a career move and won’t have coverage through your next gig, you might need to buy more coverage individually to maintain a safety net for your family.

Get to Know Your Employee Benefit Plan and Group Life Insurance Needs

Poring over the details of your employee benefit plan may not seem like a fun way to spend your Sunday afternoon. But because your plan contains some major financial perks, it’s worth getting to know. 

In particular, take the time to understand the healthcare benefits and life insurance coverage included in your plan. This way, you’ll know what kinds of financial resources you already have in your back pocket. And you’ll be able to identify where you need to top up your coverage to make sure your family is fully protected.

Laura McKay

COO & Co-Founder
About the Author

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