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Employee benefits on the farm

4.5 min read

What advice can you give to farm business owners who want to provide a benefits package to employees?

Yara Khankan

Director, International Benefits, Cowan Insurance Group, Gloucester, Ont.

When thinking about employee benefits in the agricultural community, it’s important to consider those for foreign workers. Recruiting foreign and seasonal workers has become increasingly popular in Canada, allowing employers to fulfil their mandate, often providing the competitive edge required to deliver services, products and projects – especially after long-standing vacancies or difficulty finding staff.

As an employer, considering all reasonable measures to ensure employees are accommodated is referred to as “duty of care” and helps ensure the new employee can fulfil his or her employment mandate. For in-patriates (those on a work visa, for example), understanding Canada’s single-payer healthcare system can be a daunting undertaking that results in unnecessary stress. In this case, duty of care may include helping employees with integration into – and navigation of – a new culture, society and healthcare system.

It’s important to know where your foreign workers fit within the provincial healthcare system and the answers to questions such as:

  • Is my worker eligible for provincial healthcare?

  • What are the necessary criteria?

  • Is there a waiting period?

  • How do I ensure my employee is adequately covered to eliminate the risk of a catastrophic claim – and the financial liability that comes with it?

Although the requirements vary by province, foreign workers holding a valid work permit may be eligible for a provincial health insurance plan such as medical services insurance (MSI) in Nova Scotia and Ontario health insurance plan (OHIP) in Ontario.

Eligibility is contingent on:

  • Validity period of the work permit

  • Duration of an employee’s consecutive physical presence in the province

  • Employee’s full-time employment status for a minimum of six months

Once a foreign employee’s application for a provincial health insurance plan is approved, it can take up to three months for coverage to begin. During this waiting period, employees without privately attained provincial-plan replacement coverage run the risk of significant and costly medical claims. This can pose a grave risk to employers financially and in their obligation to uphold their duty of care.

It’s imperative to educate employees on how to use their newly granted government health insurance plan (GHIP) or provincial-plan replacement coverage and on how it integrates with your organization’s benefits program if you have one.

Securing coverage is only as beneficial as the information and knowledge passed on to employees.

Jade Reeve

AgriJobs Manager, Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council (CAHRC), Ottawa, Ont.

Offering benefits packages to employees is a great way to recruit and retain employees. As most employers know, there’s an array of benefit packages that can be put together based on the size of business, number of full-time employees, etc.

These are the benefits typically considered when putting a package together:

  • Health plans cover a portion of pharmaceutical drugs and treatments not covered by provincial or territorial health care systems.

  • Dental plans for dental costs such as regular cleanings and/or dental procedures (surgery, orthodontics).

  • Life insurance plans in an amount equal to a worker’s annual salary in case of death.

  • Accidental death and dismemberment plans provide a benefit in case of an accident and cover loss of bodily appendages or loss of vision due to an accident.

  • Short and/or long-term disability plans cover the required time off work in case of an accident.

Employee assistance programs provide confidential assistance to your workers on various issues such as:

  • Financial advice

  • Counselling or therapy

  • Legal recommendations

  • Childcare

  • Addictions

  • Work-life balance

  • Registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) matching or contribution programs that are provided by some employers to help workers save for retirement.

A great example of a farm providing non-monetary benefits is described in AgriSuccess March 2020: Attract and keep the best employees

While these are all great options, most employers are unable to offer these benefits to seasonal employees. Given that a lot of farm businesses have seasonal workers, there’s something to be said about the value of non-monetary benefits. After speaking with many employers and workers at farm businesses, we have learned the non-monetary benefits can far outweigh the traditional benefits packages.  Often, non-monetary benefits provide flexibility, health and wellness, a feeling of belonging and of being a part of the family.

Though we call these non-monetary benefits, they do come at a cost that employers should consider before putting the package together. That said, these methods have proved to be extremely popular and successful among the workers who receive them. In turn, the farm businesses have remarked they have reliable workers who work hard and who have increased their productivity and morale on the farm.

Sometimes, the size of a farm and the number of employees doesn’t warrant a group benefits plan.  If this sounds like your business, there are many great non-monetary benefits that could be offered, increasing the attractiveness of your operation to potential employees and making those already working for you feel appreciated. Employers may provide up to $500 in fair market value of non-cash gifts per year, for these to be non-taxable. These include benefits such as:

  • After-hours access to a mechanical shop for repair and maintenance of private vehicles

  • Staff BBQs or holiday luncheons and dinners (employer-provided and at a cost of $100 per person or less)

  • Product giveaways (meat or fresh produce)

  • Flexible schedules to accommodate families and students

  • A simple “thank you” for a job well done

Certain benefits may be taxable for your employees, so keep this in mind when offering such things as:

  • Board, lodging, rent-free or low-rent housing

  • Tickets to sporting or entertainment events

  • Personal use of an employer’s vehicle

  • Costs of courses for personal use and not work-related

  • Group insurance premiums paid by the employer

  • Membership at a recreational facility, gym, golf course, etc.

  • Transit passes

From an AgriSuccess article by Kim Shepperd.

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