Paula Rome: What do employers need to take stock of for employee benefits in the next year?

Paula Rome

One of the continuing areas of concern for employers is employee retention, increasing productivity and reducing absence. The concentration on wellness and how benefits can be used to assist with these concerns will be on employers’ minds. As well as the traditional benefits, such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs), private medical insurance and dental insurance, some employers are taking a more holistic approach.

We are seeing more employers considering benefits that provide increased flexibility in the workplace, whether to reduce commuting by introducing more flexible working practices, or by designing spaces which allow employees to move away from their workstations. Standing desks, break-out areas and other ways of reducing static working are regularly requested. Similarly, the benefits of allowing staff to take sabbatical breaks, buy increased holiday entitlement or request more flexible work patterns are likely to remain popular.

As well as there being a significant focus on wellness in relation to physical and mental wellbeing, there is an increasing desire from employees for assistance with financial wellbeing.  Money worries among staff are recognised as contributing towards stress and related absence levels. Many employees are grateful for assistance in this area, not only in relation to traditional retirement planning scenarios, but with money concerns throughout their working life. A number of providers are now offering packages employers can provide to their employees to assist them with such financial planning.

Hot off the press is a decision which may well affect the enhancement of payments in the family-friendly leave area. It has been decided that payment for men taking shared parental leave does not have to match that of female employees on maternity leave. In Capita Customer Management v Ali, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decided that a male employee does not suffer direct sex discrimination when his employer fails to pay enhanced shared parental payments at an equivalent level to those paid as maternity pay to a woman on maternity leave for the same period.

Another area of interest will be bonus payments. A number of organisations have been forced to disclose some uncomfortable differences, both in the proportion of men and women who receive bonus payments and also in the gap between the amounts paid to male as opposed to female employees. This can, in some cases, be explained, but it is going to be interesting to see how employers deal with this differentiation.

bonus is defined widely as a bonus received in the form of cash, vouchers, securities, securities options and interests in securities. Long-service awards with a monetary value are also included, but non-monetary awards do not fall within the bonus category. So, it will be interesting to see if there will be a move away from cash to non-cash benefits such as extra annual leave. Such non-cash benefits will be included as a benefit in kind and, as such, will be excluded from the bonus calculations.

Paula Rome is a partner at law firm Shoosmiths