[Updated Feb. 17, 2023] In Canada, employees want healthcare coverage, but more specifically, the prescription drug coverage that forms part of an employee’s healthcare cover. In Canada, this is called ‘extended healthcare,’ which means your employees will have better access to affordable prescriptions. After health cover, Canadian employees rank these four benefits in this order of importance: Disability, Retirement, Death, and Wellness Programs.
Cowan Insurance Group
For a typical employer-sponsored benefits package, which includes medical, optical, dental, life, AD&D (Accident Death & Dismemberment), and possibly disability, the cost is 5,000- 7,000 Canadian Dollars per annum or about 420-580 Canadian Dollars per month.
Mandatory employee benefits in Canada include pension, legislated and parental leaves, PTO, employment insurance, and eye exams. Common supplementary employee benefits include retirement, healthcare, voluntary and flexible benefits, healthcare spending accounts, gyms, and workplace canteens. Employee perks are far-ranging and include virtual care, mental health training, and digital health and fitness platforms.
Mandatory Employee Benefits
The Canada Pension Plan (CPP) is a mandatory and contributory savings plan for all employed Canadians. Effective January 1, 2023, employees and employers contribute 5.95% up to the maximum (C$3,754.45). Increases to CPP premiums are scheduled each year between 2019 and 2023, at which time both employer and employees will be contributing 5.95% up to the maximum and an additional 4% on earnings between the maximum and an upper earning limit that is expected to be approximately C$79,400 in 2025. (Source: CRA Website).
Income from CPP can start as early as age 60 or be deferred to age 70.
Old Age Security (OAS) is paid from general tax revenues and is not something that Canadian citizens contribute to directly. Income from OAS can start as early as age 65 or be deferred to age 70. To qualify for the maximum, you must have been a Canadian citizen for 40 years after your 18th birthday. To collect a minimum OAS payment, you must have been a Canadian citizen for 10 years after your 18th birthday.
When designing your Canadian Retirement Savings Plan, great care needs to be taken in three areas:
- Plan type that is competitive within your sector, i.e., Registered Pension Plan (both Defined Contribution and Defined Benefit), Group RRSP or Deferred Profit Sharing Plan
- Contribution formula
- Provider that specializes in your chosen plan type, with competitively low investment fees, state of art technology, and a comprehensive investment platform
Canada has one of the highest counts of government-regulated and legislated leaves globally. Although paid through government-sponsored Employment Insurance benefits, these leaves are job-protected, which means the employer is responsible for maintaining the employee’s position until it is reasonable for the employee to return to work.
Leaves are governed based on Federal or Provincial mandates and vary by province.
Paid time off
Maternity/paternity pay—maternity benefits (except Quebec)
- Benefits are payable to the biological mother (including the surrogate mother) only for a maximum of 15 weeks. However, a woman may elect to receive benefits at any time from the 12th week preceding the expected week of delivery, or from the week of delivery, if earlier, and can end as late as 17 weeks after the expected date of delivery or the week in which delivery occurs, if later.
Parental leave (except Quebec)
Parental benefits are available to the parents of a newborn or newly adopted child. There are two options for parental leave:
- Standard parental leave at 55% of income up to a weekly maximum of $650. Up to 40 weeks can be shared between parents. However, one parent cannot receive more than 35 weeks of benefit.
- Extended parental leave at 33% of income up to a weekly maximum of $390. Up to 69 weeks can be shared between parents. However, one parent cannot receive more than 61 weeks of benefit.
If parents are sharing the leave, each parent must choose the same option and submit their own application to Employment Insurance (EI). Parents can receive their benefits in tandem or one after the other.
- Maternity benefits can be followed by parental benefits and applied for at the same time.
- Standard parental benefit must be applied for within 52 weeks of the child’s birth.
- Enhanced parental benefit must be applied for within 78 weeks of the child’s birth.
- If your newborn or newly-adopted child is hospitalized, the 52-week or 78-week timeframe can be extended by the number of weeks your child is in the hospital; to qualify, you need to have worked at least 600 hours in the last year.
On December 4, 2017, Bill C-44 passed amendments to the Canada Labour Code to ensure job-protected and expanded EI leaves for federally regulated employees.
Changes to maternity and parental benefits do not apply to Quebec, where parents are subject to the QPIP, which offers different benefits. In Quebec, benefits amount to nearly C$900 weekly, and Quebec has also eliminated waiting periods, significantly reducing the qualifying time. More information about Quebec maternity and parental/paternity leaves
For most people, the benefit level is 55% of an employee’s average insurable weekly earnings, up to a maximum amount. As of January 1, 2023, the maximum yearly insurable earnings amount is C$61,500, which means that an employee can receive a maximum amount of C$650 per week.
The maximum benefit period varies from 14 to 45 weeks. It is dependent upon regional unemployment rates, as well as the number of accumulated hours of employment over the preceding 52-week period or since an employee’s last claim, whichever is shorter.
Employment insurance benefits entitle the recipient to income replacement as a result of:
- Parental leave
- Compassionate care leave
- Eye exams are usually included as part of an extended health care benefit at a reasonable and customary level every 24 months for adults and every 12 months for children under 18.
- Vision benefits are separately defined and customarily include eyeglasses and contact lenses at C$250/24 months.
Supplementary Employee Benefits
Individual and employer-funded retirement/pension programs are widely popular in order to provide a vehicle for long-term savings at a higher rate of return. Employees look to employers to provide group programs through payroll deductions with employer matching schemes as a core component of a total rewards program. In addition to saving for retirement, employees look for low-cost savings vehicles for short- and medium-term goals. Payroll deductions placed into a tax-free savings account are an example of an employee-funded cost savings vehicle that is attractive to all demographics.
Offering supplementary healthcare coverage is important for your employee benefits in Canada. Ninety-one percent of Canadian employers offer an extended health care benefit to supplement the government health insurance plan for salaried employees.
- 77% of employers pay 100% of the premium
- 51% of employers offer extended health care to hourly workers
- 73% pay 100% of the premium
Extended health care includes prescription drug coverage, hospital, paramedical practitioners, supplemental health care, and out-of-country coverage at varying levels, depending on employer size, demographics, and industry.
Larger employers will often provide employees with a range of “voluntary benefits” that can be provided at discounted prices through the employer. There is an emerging trend for employers to offer innovative voluntary programs, such as virtual wellness and pet insurance.
Flexible benefit plans are common in Canada and highly desired for their flexibility, ability to address generational differences in the workforce, and attractiveness to employees. However, flexible benefit plans are commonly only offered by larger employers. A few carriers have come to market recently with small to mid-size off-the-shelf flexible benefit plans that are getting traction in the marketplace. Smaller companies can accommodate flexibility by incorporating voluntary benefit offerings, employer-funded spending accounts, and wellness platforms.
Healthcare spending and wellness accounts
Many employers address employees’ desire for flexibility and their changing needs with healthcare spending accounts (100% employer-funded). These accounts enable employees to use available funds within the parameters of eligible expenses dictated by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to meet their individual/family needs. Wellness accounts are administered differently and have a broader scope of eligible expenses. They are taxable for the employee however have been gaining traction in the marketplace as a means for flexibility and to meet the needs of a more diverse demographic in the workplace.
Very large employers can provide ‘gyms onsite’ facilities, whereas smaller employers may offer gym subsidies or access to a gym with lower corporate rates. Many employers choose to subsidize this benefit through wellness accounts that provide more flexibility for employees with wellness needs outside of the standard gym membership options.
This benefit is not common in Canada; however, in highly competitive industries, such as the technology industry, we see an increase in catered lunches for employees. Large employers often have an onsite cafeteria with discounted food prices.
Employee Perks in Canada
The intent is 24/7 health care access across Canada, with responses in under 10 seconds for text. Images can be shared, and there are no time limits on chat or video calls. Employees can also reach nutritionists, naturopaths, and mental health specialists for an additional fee to employees. An online doctor visit may have a per-appointment charge attached. Some services include prescriptions and delivery through an app. Programs such as this have seen a very high uptake over the past 3 years, not only as a result of Covid restrictions. The high demand for general practitioners and family doctors has resulted in higher wait times and inability to for some to find Doctors taking on new patients. As a result, many are looking to virtual care solutions provided by employers as a core benefit offering.
Digital wellness platforms
Digital wellness platforms that incorporate personalized programming and rewards tied to healthcare spending accounts or wellness spending accounts are becoming quite popular for multinational employers’ employee benefits in Canada. Younger employees especially appreciate this benefit.
Perks and loyalty programs
Give employees access to member services at a preferred rate. The costs can vary from free to $2 to $4 per employee per month. Some programs can provide global or North American savings and are viewed as an opportunity to synchronize cross-border offerings.
Corporate health challenges
Provide team-based and individual challenges that are included in the membership fees (ranging from $245 to $350/month), in addition to other services, such as onsite fitness classes. Team challenges can include emails, promotional posters, and other materials created and sent by a vendor. Many programs use wearable devices to track fitness data. Some employers choose to purchase wearables for employees (taxable benefit) to incentivize participation.
Coaching provides health navigation, health risk assessments, and health coaching. Programs are varied and can help with conditions from high cholesterol to back and neck pain, stress, depression, diabetes, and musculoskeletal conditions. Biometrics can also be included to assess baseline health for program coordination. There are varying levels of support offered, and costs vary.
These events are educational and interactive events designed for outreach and to provide basic preventive medicine and medical screening to employees at work in conjunction with workplace wellness. They can also be used to promote health and well-being initiatives and programs which are available to employees. Fairs can include wellness, perks, promotion of onsite fitness, training, and subsidized meal programs.
Online digital health and fitness platforms
These are increasingly popular low-cost options for health and well-being offerings because they are easily accessible programs available to employees as needed. They typically include health risk assessments, gamification, rewards, challenges, targeted behavior change messaging, and targeted health recommendations. Many wellness platforms can be unbundled or bundled with rewards and recognition and EFAP. Some platforms put less focus on traditional ‘wellness’ and more on training the brain to see the positive. The goal is to help employees be happier, knowing that happy employees are more engaged and productive.
The intent is 24/7 health care access across Canada, with responses in under 10 seconds for text. Images can be shared, and there are no time limits on chat or video calls. Employees can also reach nutritionists, naturopaths, and mental health specialists for an additional fee to employees. An online doctor visit may have a per-appointment charge attached. Some services include prescriptions and delivery through an app.
Mental health training
Leadership training on mental health, anti-stigma campaigns, mindfulness, and stress reduction programs are becoming common. Sit-stand workstations, walking work meetings, and treadmill workstations to support sedentary office workers may also be included.
Some employers are implementing ‘vacation blackout’ email policies that prevent employees on vacation from accessing or receiving work emails. Flex benefit programs have added an opportunity for employees to buy ‘wellness days off.’ Sleep disorders are affecting more than 60% of the Canadian population, resulting in increased workplace accidents, chronic disease risks, and reduced productivity. More forward-thinking employers are investing in nap pods and encouraging employees to take a 15 to 30-minute afternoon nap to boost productivity in place of coffee breaks.
Physical workplaces are being modified to encourage healthy behaviors. Some employers have centralized waste facilities to encourage employees to walk to the garbage. Cafeterias are being rearranged to orient healthy foods in more visible locations. ‘Bringing the outdoors in’ is a trend to help reduce stress and includes water displays, natural lighting, pictures of the outdoors, and living walls.
Flexible employee benefits
Young employees are looking for flexible employee benefits and an employer that cares about their health and well-being.
Onsite wellness initiatives
These include massages, Pilates, catered meals, healthy snack bars, and fitness challenges.
This includes financial education for employees, particularly around the importance of adequate retirement planning.