Picture this: you’ve been interviewing for a new job and have offers from two companies. Amazing! But now you must decide between the two. And both jobs offer similar pay. So, which one do you go with?

Whether you’re looking for your first job or making a career move, don’t let the salary be your only focus. Employee benefits can be an important part of total compensation that can make a big impact.

You’ll typically receive a brief summary of the benefits plan with your job offers. However, you need to dig a little deeper to properly assess the program’s true value.

Here are 11 questions to ask your potential employer before you sign:

  1. What are the health and life insurance benefits?
  2. How long do I have to wait before my benefits kick in?
  3. How much do I have to contribute to the benefits plan?
  4. What are the deductibles, co-insurance, and benefit maximums?
  5. Is there an employee assistance program (EAP)?
  6. Do the benefits include virtual care?
  7. How much paid time off do I get?
  8. Is there a health spending account (HSA)?
  9. Do you match retirement plan contributions?
  10. Is there a tuition reimbursement plan?
  11. Are there any other perks I need to know about?

1. What are the life and health insurance benefits?

Employee, or workplace, benefit plans often include:

  • group life insurance,
  • accident insurance,
  • health insurance (including a drug plan and paramedical benefits),
  • dental coverage, and
  • short- and long-term disability coverage.

But the devil is in the details. To find out more, ask follow-up questions like:

  • How many multiples of my salary am I covered for under the group life policy?
  • Does the dental plan include orthodontics?
  • What percentage of salary does the long-term disability (LTD) plan replace?

2. How long do I have to wait before benefits kick in?

Are you currently covered under a group benefits plan and changing employers? You may have to wait 3-6 months until you’re eligible to join your new employer’s benefits program. Don’t have immediate benefits coverage? It may be difficult to arrange short-term individual or family coverage. So, try to negotiate. You may be able to have your benefits start straight away, especially if you’re a more senior-level employee.

3. How much do I have to contribute to the benefits plan?

Employer-paid benefits plans are more valuable. Be sure to find out how much (if any) the organization deducts as employee contributions from your pay cheque. Do you have coverage under your spouse’s employer’s benefits plan? If so, some employers will allow you to opt out of the company plan. Or you could coordinate your benefits for even better coverage.

4. What are the deductibles, co-insurance and benefit maximums?

Find out what these numbers are. That way, you can determine what you may have to pay out each year. (Which will depend on the services you typically utilize).

  • A deductible is the amount you pay, over some time frame, before your employer starts reimbursing your claims.
  • Co-insurance is the portion of every bill submitted that you pay for. (e.g., your employer pays 80%, you pay 20%).
  • Benefit maximums are the maximum cumulative amount the plan will pay in a year (e.g., $500 for physiotherapy) or in your lifetime.

5. Is there an employee assistance program (EAP)?

An EAP will give you access to a host of services for you and your family. EAP providers typically offer a 24/7 support. This benefit gives you access to a trained operator to connect you with professionals, depending on your needs. This may include psychologists, family, and financial counsellors. You can also get referrals to community resources for longer-term support.

6. Do the benefits include virtual care?

A growing number of employers are offering virtual care along with their standard benefits plans. This allows you to have convenient access to primary care providers, such as doctors or nurses, from the comfort of your home, often same day.

The service can quickly assess medical issues that don’t require a physical exam, such as prescription refills, nasal congestion, and healthcare navigation. Some virtual care services, such as Lumino Health Virtual Care (powered by Dialogue) also offer access to mental health support to address anxiety disorder, depression, stress, insomnia etc.

Virtual care can be a great addition to supplement the care you receive by your primary physician.

7. How much paid time off do I get?

The minimum mandated annual vacation after a year of work in every Canadian province* is two weeks. An extra week or two of vacation can be a deciding factor if you’re:

  • deciding whether to take a job, or
  • trying to choose between multiple offers.

Also ask if you’ll receive any paid personal days and how they can be used. Did your job offer’s salary fall short of what you’re looking for? Try negotiating extra vacation time in lieu of additional salary.

*Except Saskatchewan where the mandated annual vacation is 3 weeks.

8. Is there a health spending account (HSA)?

An HSA provides flexibility to tailor your benefits plan to meet your family’s needs. Using pre-tax money contributed by your employer, you can submit claims for certain allowable expenses not covered by your plan like:

  • deductibles,
  • co-insurance, or
  • the portion of the cost of eyeglasses that exceeds your limit.

9. Do you match retirement plan contributions?

Many employers have a defined contribution pension plan or group registered retirement savings plan. Find out if your new employer will match all or part of your contributions. It’s also additional incentive for you to save!

10. Is there a tuition reimbursement plan?

If you’re studying to improve your work-related skills, your prospective employer may reimburse you for some or all tuition. This valuable benefit can significantly enhance your future career development opportunities.

11. Are there any other perks I need to know about?

A few of the other perks offered by some companies to attract employees can include:

  • company cars,
  • reserved parking spots,
  • on-site daycare,
  • subsidized gym memberships and
  • free meals or coffee.

Knowing your total employee benefits and where you can negotiate puts you in the best position to make an informed decision. It’s also worth noting that some of these perks may be taxable benefits too. Once you’ve received the answers to your employee benefits questions and accepted the position, celebrate your success. And then make a careful note of the deadlines for enrolling in all benefits, savings and pension plans. That way your coverage can start as soon as possible!

Do you need insurance coverage beyond your employee benefits?

Your new employer may offer options to purchase more coverage (e.g., life insurance) at group rates through payroll deduction. But, if your benefits coverage isn’t enough, you may want to consider additional coverage through one of these 4 options:

What? How? 
1. Apply for personal health insurance online.  Get a free insurance quote.
2. Apply for life insurance online with SunLife Go Insurance Get a free life insurance quote.
3. Apply for Sun Life Choices insurance within 60 days of leaving a workplace insurance plan with any Canadian insurance company. 

Not a Sun Life member? Get a free health insurance quote.

Are you a Sun Life plan member? Apply for Health Coverage Choice.

4. Talk to a Sun Life advisor to understand your health insurance and life insurance options. Find an advisor

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This article is meant to provide only general information. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada does not provide legal, accounting, taxation, or other professional advice. Please seek advice from a qualified professional, including a thorough examination of your specific legal, accounting and tax situation.