October 2, 2014

Benefits of Being a Small Company

The best small companies look for ways to offer good benefits.

Mike Vogel | 8/1/2009

Human resources manager Lisa Samuels (standing) says Air-Transport IT Services employees get 10 days of vacation a year in their first year and 12 paid holidays a year. [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]

Airline and airport information technology company Air-Transport IT Services in Orlando (No. 24 Small) matches each employee’s 401(k) contributions dollar-for-dollar up to 5% of pay. It gives employees no-cost disability and life insurance coverage, 10 days of vacation the first year and 12 paid holidays a year, which earns a “wow” from new hires, says human resources manager Lisa Samuels. CEO Betros Wakim believes “we have to take care of our employees and they’ll take care of our customers,” Samuels says. Davidson Realty (No. 2 Small), a real estate development, brokerage and property management company in St. Augustine, pays the full premium cost of health insurance for its 15 full-time workers and half the cost for their families under two healthcare coverage options.

How good the benefits are at small companies depends a lot on the boss.
Workers at small employers can suffer when it comes to benefits. Workplaces with fewer than 50 employees at a location are exempt from the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Healthcare costs are onerous for everyone, but companies with fewer than 50 employees lack the scale to get lower premiums and also can’t command customized medical plans. Many of the Best Companies in the small company category, however, are committed to a strong benefits package.

Air-Transport solves the scale problem in medical insurance by partnering with ADP Total Source, an employee leasing company with which Air-Transport co-employs its 60 workers. “We get really good rates,” Samuels says. Employees who opt for a high-deductible plan get their coverage at no cost other than meeting the deductible — generally $1,500. Those who opt for a more traditional plan have 78% of the premium cost covered by the company.

Of all benefits, companies are under the most stress over providing medical insurance. Healthcare went up 12% for Davidson Realty last year to $9,000 a month, says Vaughn. Last year, it increased the percentage of family coverage employees pay to half.
Expect more insurance price hikes. “We continue to see double-digit cost increases across the board,” says Ramona Fiumara, vice president of operations for Seitlin Benefits, a Miami-based insurance and advisory firm.

Rising costs force companies to rethink their benefits strategies. Fiumara says that because healthcare is the top benefit employees want, companies aren’t dropping it. But to cover it, companies are scaling back disability, life insurance or other benefits. They also are shifting more of the medical insurance cost to workers. Charging employees more creates a problem, however. If the higher cost leads enough employees to drop coverage, the insurance company can demand to re-rate coverage. That’s so the insurer doesn’t wind up covering only sick people. “It’s definitely happening more often now with the way the economy is,” Fiumara says.
Davidson Realty hasn’t found out about what will happen in the next cycle with insurance costs. “Don’t want to think about it,” Vaughn says.

Notary Public Underwriters
(No. 4 Small)

Tallahassee-based Notary Public Underwriters is a small company with big benefits, including a 5% 401(k) match, annual profit-sharing and 100% coverage of employees’ health insurance. President Debbie Taylor also has a discretionary fund to hand out generous cash bonuses to employees, a travel budget to take employees and guests on all-expense-paid weekenders and old-fashioned Christmas bonuses for all. How does such a small company, with 30 full-time employees, pull it off? Good cash flow, no debt and generous owners. The hands-off owners, Jack Diestelhorst and Debbie Solomon, “believe in giving back generously to employees — they figure as long as we’re successful, it’s the employees who made it happen,” says Taylor. “They’re smart with money, and they’re not greedy. They don’t take money out of the business to buy airplanes. They give it back.”

Benefit Advisors
(No. 17 Small)

Benefit Advisors, a 16-employee Ocala company, pays 100% for employee health, vision, dental and short- and long-term disability, as well as a 2% IRA contribution whether or not the employee contributes. “We do it because that’s what we do as a company,” says Donna Healy-Strickland, human resources director for the company, which provides group health insurance and HR management to other companies.

 

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