Labor and Employment

Common Questions: Benefits and Your Job

Beginning a job with a new employer can be an overwhelming experience. In your first few days, you'll meet new people, be required to learn new policies and procedures, and probably be overloaded with written material from the company's human resources department. At your earliest opportunity, you should review the material related to your employee benefits. You'll want to familiarize yourself with the offerings, understand how much you'll have to contribute toward insurance and retirement planning, and know when you can enroll. If your employer doesn't offer benefits such as health insurance, you'll have to decide whether to separately purchase insurance and calculate its cost.

Q: Does My New Employer Have to Give Me Benefits on the Day I Start a New Job?

A: Certain benefits are legally required from your first day of employment. For example, your new employer must make Social Security and Medicare contributions on your behalf, and must provide worker's compensation insurance. In most circumstances, the company is also required to provide unemployment insurance from your first day of employment.

But employers are not legally required to provide other benefits, such as health insurance, vacation time and retirement accounts. In many instances, employers will offer these optional benefits in an effort to motivate and retain quality employees. If your employer offers these benefits, they can limit employee eligibility. For example, only full-time employees may be entitled to paid vacation time. Or they might impose a waiting period on new employees before they are able to enroll in the company's health insurance or retirement plan. This is legal provided the company is applying the same rules to all employees.

Q: What Employee Benefits Information Should I Receive When I Start a New Job?

A: Within 90 days of joining a group health insurance plan, you must receive a summary plan description that explains how the plan works. Although not required by law, your new employer should give you, or you should request, a copy of the employee handbook and information about all employee benefits, even those for which you're not immediately eligible and those in which participation is optional.

Q: Is My Employer Allowed to Give Different Benefits to Different Employees?

A: Yes and no. Employers may segment employees into groups (such as full-time employees and part-time employees), and the employer must give each member of a group the same benefits. For example, an employer can decide that all full-time employees earn paid vacation time, and part-time employees do not earn vacation time. Even within a class of employees, the company can provide different benefits as long as everyone within the subgroup is treated equally. So the company can decide that full-time employees who have worked for the company for less than a year earn no vacation, full-time employees who have worked for the company for 1 year to 4 years earn 2 weeks of vacation a year, and full-time employees who have worked for the company for more than 4 years earn 3 weeks of vacation a year. But the company cannot apply the benefits selectively within the same group of employees.

Q: My Wife is Pregnant and the Baby is Due Next Month. Am I Entitled to Unpaid Leave?

A: If you've worked for your current employer for less than a year, then your employer is not required to give you unpaid leave. If you work for a company with 50 or more employees at your location, then the Family and Medical Leave Act entitles you to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, for medical reasons, once you've worked at the company for at least one year and 1,250 hours.

Questions for Your Attorney

If you feel you're not getting the benefits to which you're entitled, you should talk to your company's HR representative. If the HR department is unable to help you, an employment lawyer may be able to help address your concerns.

You may want to ask your attorney the following questions:

  • Am I receiving the benefits to which I am entitled?
  • Are there additional benefits that I should be receiving?
  • Am I entitled to health insurance coverage under COBRA?
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