If you are an HR manager and also happen to be among the many Brits and Americans who are monolingual, you may have never wondered how Employee Benefits terminologies are expressed abroad or in your company’s foreign subsidiaries. Certainly a name is oftentimes just a name, but when the name expresses a concept that affects your bottom line, it’s worth knowing what the underlying connotations may be.
While working on a project for a French subsidiary, an American colleague of mine raised his eyebrows when he saw the phrase “Protection sociale” written across benefit materials. Indeed “Protection sociale” is the equivalent term for “Employee Benefits” in English—there was no error in translation. But what was puzzling for my colleague was that the French term seemed to suggest something along the lines of social security. Questions abounded. Does this mean that social security covers everything in France? If so why are we spending so much money on EB there?
Employee Benefits practices in France are a hybrid of state and private benefits that top-up social security benefits.
For whatever reason, the French term and English term for the same concept seem to reflect different “advertising strategies”, if you will. The term Employee Benefits seems to say, “if you’re an employee of this company, check out the great benefits you will get!” Almost as if joining a company were an exclusive club, a gateway to a better life.
In the US, this perspective is quite relevant. Decades ago, when private health insurance was still not so widespread among American benefit offerings, the prospect of having the medicals bills for your entire family paid for, retirement savings accounts, and other benefits were a great privilege, perhaps reserved only for top managers at the time. Today, these benefits are a must for prospective employees and no longer hold the same glamour, having become an essential part of an employee’s compensation.
In France, it seems that the employee-employer relationship is a bit different. The Employer plays a role in providing for the employee’s social welfare in the form of payments to the social security system as well as for shortcomings of that system. Unions and Works councils are much more prevalent in France to ensure that Employers are fulfilling their duties. The employee benefits French employees receive are based on the Employer’s social, moral, and legal duty, rather than a perk.
Looking at other countries, we see other variances in the Employer-Employee relationship reflected in benefits.
In Peru, for example, an employer is not required to offer life insurance to an employee until he/she has reached 4 years of service with the company. This life insurance requirement encompasses natural death, accidental death, and permanent disability arising from an accident. If the Employer so desires, they can offer life insurance as early as 3 months into the employment contract but no sooner. This coverage is called “Vida Ley” or “Legal Life”. For employees working in high risk industries, the government mandates a high risk worker’s compensation policy, which can also be purchased for other employees as a precaution. In Peru we see that the Employer’s responsibility to employees extends only to instances where work responsibilities could potentially endanger personnel. Employers may elect to protect their employees beyond the workplace, but it is their prerogative to do so.
In contrast, in the Netherlands, employers are required to offer their employees two years of short-term disability coverage. These benefits are guaranteed as of the first day of illness. Typically short-term disability plans in the Netherlands are set-up to offer 100% of salary in the first year of short-term disability and 70% in the second year—no less than 70% must be guaranteed at any time. From there long-term disability coverage kicks in, and don’t forget that there are two potential long-term disability systems that may apply to an individual. At the same time life insurance for natural causes is not something typically offered to employees, but accidental death benefits are standard in benefits packages upon hire. The Dutch (as usual) seem to take a more practical and socially responsible approach, covering all the possible issues that may be caused as a result of the workplace, while the inevitability of death due to natural causes is the responsibility of the individual and social security system.
Examples from around the globe abound and in the end reflect each society’s expectations of their employer, their government, and individual responsibility.
Certainly Employers in Peru, the Netherlands, the US, and France and beyond would all agree that they are interested in the well-being of their employees and offer generous, cutting-edge benefits…. But would these benefits smell as sweet in another country?
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