T1 Form - Taxable benefits for employees.

What Are Taxable Employee Benefits?

Recently Benefits Canada asked the question, “When are employee benefits taxable?”

The article suggests that deciding whether a benefit provided to employees is taxable is often not as easy as it might seem.

What are taxable employee benefits? The Income Tax Act is just not as cut and dry as one might suspect regarding benefits, and the courts leave much open to interpretation. In part, the courts are often a more reliable source of information than the Income Tax Act itself.

Tax Exemptions Can Be Moving Targets

As a general rule of thumb, Benefits Canada states that if the benefit primarily targets the employer it is non-taxable to the employee. For example, if an employer pays membership fees for an employee, those fees are considered a condition of employment. In this instance, the fees are not taxable.

However, if the beneficiary of the tax benefit is an employee, there are exemptions specifically created for a wide variety of circumstances that need to be carefully considered and addressed. Kevin Stienstra, a senior tax manager at Grant Thornton LLP, says, “You can also look at the facts around a particular benefit to see whether an argument can be made that it’s non-taxable.”

CRA Monetary Limits on Employee Benefits

It is important to look to specific exemptions (such as company holiday parties) to avoid a tax hit on the value of the benefit.

Holiday parties for example, are non-taxable up to $100 for each employee. However, if the total amount for even one employee is greater than $100, then the entire expenditure for the party becomes taxable, not just the overage amount.

Gift certificates and cash are always taxable, while non-cash awards escape taxation only if their value for the year is less than $500.

Awards are also only considered for workplace contributions and not for job performance. Gifts are deemed tax free only if presented on special occasions.

Caught in The Act

As mentioned in the article, based on the courts and the strength of cases, there is often a reliable source for determining what constitutes a tax benefit. However, you cannot rely 100% on this source alone.

Blend your findings there, together with the administrative policies of Canada Revenue Agency, and you will have a more consistent idea of how taxable benefits apply to your organization or company.

For further information on taxable employee benefits, read the entire Benefits Canada article online or contact Benefit Strategies in Edmonton, Alberta at 1-780-437-5070.

You might also like our article on the Top 10 Employee Benefits in Canada.

Older man with laptop at a table.

Employee Benefit Plans for Employees Over 65 Years

Are there benefit plans for seniors now that retirement is a thing of the past and more employees in Canada are working over the age of 65? Baby boomers in the workplace have a variety of reasons for continuing to work. For some, it is an economic necessity. For others, it is by choice.

According to a Benefits Canada article, only 35% of Canadian respondents have the necessary employee benefits plan in place to address a workforce with older workers over 65.

This aging workforce presents employers with some unique challenges regarding benefit plans for seniors. As more experienced and skillful employees remain on the job longer, benefit services planning will require adjustments to address the ongoing health issues specific to an older sector of the population.

Proportionately, older boomers in the workplace tend to have more ailments than the balance of the population, which in turn, means that their health claims will be higher.

Do you have an aging workforce? Are there boomers in your workplace? If so, there are two ways you can start addressing their employee benefits issues:

  1. Review employee benefits coverage
  2. Examine you collective agreements

Review Employee Benefits Coverage

Historically, Canadian health care plans have not provided for a population in this boomer age that continues to work past the age of 65. The average benefit plan has varying degrees of coverage for older employees and often decreased coverage where long-term, and life benefits are concerned.

Some health care insurers are beginning to develop forward-looking programs that specifically address the ever-widening niche of baby boomers in the workplace.

Examine Your Collective Agreements

One of the circumstances to analyze is if employees are working under a collective agreement. Unions have filed grievances in some instances when employee benefits are terminated or decreased after the age of 65.

An employer may need to review their policies on employee benefits for seniors in light of their collective agreements and ensure that their aging demographic does not experience coverage diminishment or disappearance altogether.

If you are over 65 and have questions about employee benefits for seniors and aging baby boomers in the workplace, please call Benefit Strategies in Edmonton, Alberta at 1-780-437-5070 to discuss your options on various benefits packages.

You might also like our blog on What Does Employee Health and Wellness Mean to Your Business.

Massage therapist working with a patient.

Massage Therapy Benefits for Employees

This last month Benefits Canada asked the question, “Are massage therapy benefits for employee worthwhile?”

The question comes up frequently as many benefits plan sponsors are being pressured to deal with rising drug costs and forced to find other places to reduce benefits costs. Is a massage therapy something that benefits plan sponsors can no longer afford to cover?

In this blog post we will explore three topics related to massage therapy benefits for employees:

  1. What employees are likely to use massage therapy and why
  2. Whether massage therapy is a necessary employee benefit
  3. The value of massage therapy as a way to deal with workplace stress

What plan members are using massage therapy and what are their reasons?

  • Massage therapy services are popular among teenagers and younger, healthier plan members.
  • 43% of plan members have submitted at least one claim for massage therapy in the past year, according to a 2016 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey.
  • 50% of those who use massage therapy report the main reason is for treating a diagnosed or self-diagnosed injury.
  • 38% of those who use massage therapy report the main reason is for relaxation or relieving tension.

Is massage therapy a necessary employee benefit?

In trying to answer this question, Benefits Canada provides several expert opinions:

Barbara Martinez, Practice Leader for Benefits Solutions and Group Benefits at Great-West Life Assurance Co.

Barbara explains that many advisory boards are questioning the value of massage therapy because it falls outside of the traditional definition of medically necessary, yet so many younger employees are opting to use it.

Peter Gove, Innovation Leader of Health Management at Green Shield Canada

Peter states, “Other interventions show much stronger medical evidence, yet are not covered.” According to the Sanofi study mentioned above, there is little scientific evidence backing the positive effects of massage therapy.

Chris Bonnett, Principal at H3 Consulting

Chris argues that massage therapy is a, “Valued benefit for significant segments of the population.”

Art Babcock, Senior Vice-President at Aon Hewitt

Art urges employers to create a strategic benefits plan to measure objectives and results when it comes to the benefits. He argues that without this level of accountability it’s, “Open season on benefits that to do not meet the traditional definition of ‘medically necessary’.”

The 2016 Sanofi study took a look at how massage therapy benefits and usage have changed in the last five years. The 2011 study predicted massage therapy as one of the fastest growing employee benefits. However, in 2016 83% of employee benefits plans were offering coverage for paramedical services like massage therapy but only 49% of members used the service.

Employees seek relaxation through massage therapy – is this a bad thing?

In the 2016 Sanofi Canada Healthcare survey mentioned above, 38% of respondents expressed a desire to relax and relieve tension and 40% said that the workplace negatively affects their ability to manage stress. Is massage therapy in your employee benefits plan a good way to encourage your employees to relax and destress?

Anne Nicoll, Vice President of Business Development at Medavie Blue Cross seems to think so: “So here we have plan members telling us that they’re using their plan to help them relax. Is that not a good thing?”

Does your employee benefits plan include massage therapy and are your employees using this to their advantage?

If you aren’t sure or if you need to set up a cost-effective benefits plan in your workplace for the first time, please email Benefit Strategies in Edmonton, Alberta or call us at 1-780-437-5070. We’d be happy to go over your options!

Man helping a woman to try on eyeglass frames.

Do Your Vision Care Benefits Cover Your Employees’ Needs?

This week, Benefits Canada is asking “Is your vision care benefits coverage too low?”

The online Canadian poll questioned if the common $200 vision care coverage included in most employee benefits plans is too low.

Another recent survey performed by Sanofi found that employees have very low satisfaction with vision plan coverage when compared to other typical employee benefits. In fact, over 1 in 5 participants ranked their coverage as poor or very poor.

This low satisfaction is very contradictory considering how much members value vision care. It ranks third in terms of importance and over 90% of employee benefits plan members say it is somewhat or very important.

How do your employees feel about the vision care benefits coverage within your workplace employee benefits plan? Does this valued benefit fail to meet plan members’ needs when it comes to purchasing glasses? Should vision care for your employees be a higher priority?

Contact our benefits plan design advisors online or call Benefit Strategies in Edmonton, Alberta at 1-780-437-5070 if you would like to evaluate your current benefits plan or to get a new employee group benefits plan quote for your company.

Couple planning employee benefits with charts, tablet and calculator.

Industries with the Best Employee Benefits

Have you ever wondered what is the best employee benefits by industry and how your package compares to employee benefits in other industry sectors?

A recent study by Glassdoor (an employer rating website) looked at over 470,000 reviews on company websites for businesses that fall into 8 leading industries. The objective was to see how employee benefits compare. Here are the results from highest to lowest, rating overall employee benefits by industry on a 5 star scale:

  1. Finance
    3.72 out of 5 stars
  2. Information Technology
    3.68 out of 5 stars
  3. Manufacturing
    3.64 out of 5 stars
  4. Education
    3.61 out of 5 stars
  5. Health Care
    3.44 out of 5 stars
  6. Business Services
    3.37 out of 5 stars
  7. Retail
    3.11 out of 5 stars
  8. Restaurants, Bars, Food Services
    2.73 out of 5 stars

Based on these survey results, Glassdoor concluded that:

  • Employee benefits packages are highly diverse
  • Access to employee benefits and the quality of benefits are important in overall employee satisfaction

At Benefit Strategies Inc. in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, we believe that it is important to understand not only what a competitive benefits plan looks like for your industry or sector, but also the types of employee benefit plans offered across all job options in Canada.

Offering an employee benefits plan and coverage that you know your employees will value (and is competitive) is a key factor in attracting and retaining highly skilled employees.

Read the full article over at Benefits Canada.

To learn more about Benefit Strategies’ approach to designing an employee benefits plan to attract and retain good employees please call our employee benefits specialists in Edmonton at 1-780-437-5070.

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Individual Health Monitoring Just Got Easier

You’ve probably heard about self health monitoring apps. Some health-related companies are now offering select groups of customers deeply discounted Apple Watches as rewards for adhering to long-term exercise plans.

As of March 21, 2016, the scope and range of personal health care just changed once again. Apple recently announced CareKit, the next step in the development of their health-related infrastructure that will undoubtedly begin to change the face of overall healthcare, as we currently know it, and could potentially positively affect employee benefits programs.

What Is CareKit?

CareKit is a new framework used by developers to build self health monitoring apps that will enable people to play a more active role in their personal healthcare monitoring.

Apple designed the first four modules of CareKit and is encouraging the developer community to take their lead and run with it. Those initial modules of the self health monitoring app include:

  1. Care Card – This app lets individuals track their medication and physical therapy exercises (what Apple calls Action Items). Some of these exercises are tracked using sensors in the AppleWatch, or on the iPhone.
  2. Symptom and Measurement Tracker – This area of the self-monitoring health app allows a user to record how they’re feeling, what symptoms (if any) they may have, and even quantify their range of motion using the iPhone’s gyroscope and accelerometer.
  3. Insight Dashboard – Apple designed this area of CareKit to show how medical treatments are working by mapping symptoms against action items in the Care Card portion of the app.
  4. Connect – This fourth module allows patients to share (at their discretion) information about their health or change in health conditions, with family members, doctors, or care teams.

It will be very interesting to see what other developers will come up with to add to Apple’s CareKit design.

How Self Health Monitoring Apps Affect Our Industry

Having the ability to improve the health of individuals through the use of self-monitoring health apps like CareKit, that offer more accurate and timely data collection of their actionable medical information, will presumably lead to better overall healthcare and inevitably, put less strain on an employer’s employee benefit offerings.

Employees that buy into self-monitoring health apps and adhere to long-term exercise plans should subsequently experience more satisfying health, increased longevity, and as a result, put less demand on healthcare.

This is very promising for our industry and for employers, and Benefit Strategies will be right there, just as we always have been, supporting our customers and their employees.

We are hopeful that through the use of CareKit and other similar self-monitoring health apps that will inevitably hit the market, employees will be able to enjoy considerably lengthier coverage periods offered by their employers.

Please contact Benefit Strategies online or call our employee benefits advisors at 1-780-437-5070 to discuss your employee benefits needs.

Businessman with his finger on the word BENEFITS

Oil Bust Increases Employee Benefits Cost to Employers

The oil bust effect on benefits plans is a real cause for concern for employers. The decline of oil prices over these past few years has not only negatively impacted the Alberta economy but it has also had a detrimental impact on employee benefits according to Benefits Canada. This decline has made it difficult for HR departments since they now have less competitive benefits programs to offer in attracting talent.

What Is Driving Up Costs?

Instead of reducing the cost of employee benefits to the employer, this economic downturn can have the opposite effect. If one spouse or the other is laid off, the benefits plan of the employed spouse then becomes the sole plan.

Employees also tend to increase their usage of a benefits plan if they’re concerned that they might be laid off. They tend to want to purchase that new set of glasses, or get that dental work done before they are forced to live without the benefits.The oil bust effect on benefits is immediate.

Even apprehension about the potential of a layoff can increase the number of visits to psychologists, massage therapists, and acupuncturists. Companies may find themselves in a position of having to increase cost sharing by employees or reducing employee benefits coverage altogether.

Long Term Relief

Long-term relief is only likely to occur when oil prices rebound, and who knows how long that might take. Also, once spouses re-enter the workforce and begin using their own benefits programs again, per capita costs are likely to decrease.

While new benefits proposals from other carriers might offer some immediate relief, you must be aware that benefits rates could very well boomerang back once the economy starts to move again and your first renewal is due.

Do you still have questions about the oil bust effect on benefits? To help you navigate through Alberta’s interim economic crunch and explore better options for reducing employee benefits cost to you, the employer, please contact us online or call our Benefit Strategies advisors at 1-780-437-5070!

Group at a table discussing benefit plan design changes.

5 Reasons for Employee Benefit Plan Design Change

Could it be time to reassess your employee benefits plan design?

In a Benefits Canada article written by Brian Lindenberg, we are presented with five compelling reasons for improving and/or designing employee benefits programs in your workplace.

  1. Your employee benefit plan risks are changing or have changed.

The whole purpose of custom employee benefits plan design for your workplace is to manage or fund the risks of organizational and individual health, as well as employment risks, repititional risks, and compliance risks. Lindenburg gives the example of paying for higher-priced prescription drugs. Your employee benefits plan must be responsive as benefits risks increase or change, and become more costly.

  1. Your employees are becoming more transient.

According to a 2015 Mercer Insider Employees’ Minds survey, “35% of all employees are seriously considering leaving their jobs, despite being reasonably happy” with both their current company and their career opportunities. Employment is now measured in months or a few years rather than decades like generations past. In the next ten to twenty years, it is expected that a significant number of employees will shift to become contractors. As more and more contingent workers become the norm, the stability and security of pay and traditional employee benefits may no longer be enough to maintain your talented workforce.

  1. Your employees will need proactive health management and advanced medicine.

Recent years have seen a major shift towards proactive health management rather than traditional health benefits that only respond when someone is sick. Changing technology and advances in medicine are also bringing in new medical treatments including genetic testing and digital health technology. Does your employee benefits plan design give your employees the freedom and ability to take advantage of new healthcare technologies?

  1. Your workforce is becoming more diverse.

Age and culture are major value drivers for various aspects of employee benefits in Canada, such as disability and life insurance. Flex benefit plans try to address the fact that certain employee benefits are more important to different people but often fail to address every individual’s needs.

  1. Your employees expect higher levels of customized benefits.

Today’s economy is driven by high customization and individualization. People can choose exactly what they want and when they want it. On the other hand, traditional employee benefits plans (like the one you may have implemented in your workplace) are based on the collective needs of the workforce rather than the individual. Customized benefits may be worth looking into.


Overall, the argument is that Canadian’s expectations towards their employee benefits plan design are becoming more customized and that benefit plans will need to embrace recent advances in healthcare, medications and technology. The Canadian workforce is also becoming more diverse and more transient in jobs and the people that do those jobs. All of these factors could mean that how you think your employees value their employee benefits plan today, or in the future, may not actually be accurate. You can read Benefits Canada’s full article here.

Is your current employee benefits plan design meeting the needs and expectations of your employees or the workforce?

Call Alberta’s trusted employee benefits company, Benefits Strategies Inc., at 1-780-437-5070 to speak with one of our employee benefits advisors about custom designing an employee benefits program for your company and your valuable employees.

Young professional millennials smiling.

Top 10 Employee Benefits in Canada

The Canadian Payroll Association (CPA) polled nearly 4,000 payroll practitioners to determine the country’s top employee benefits in Canada. Do you offer any of these most popular employee benefits in your workplace?

  1. Health and Dental Insurance
  2. Group Life Insurance
  3. Training Expenses
  4. Vehicle Allowances
  5. Gifts and Awards
  6. Cellular Phone Service
  7. Counselling Services
  8. Disability-related Employment Benefits
  9. Income Maintenance Plans and other Insurance Plans
  10. RRSP Contributions

Benefits Canada reports that each year over $901 billion in wages and taxable benefits are administered by Canada’s 1.5 million employers. If you provide employee benefits in Canada or are considering adding a competitive benefits plan to your workplace, you will need to review each type of employee benefit for tax implications when reporting employee income. Read more here.

Do you know how to properly administer both taxable and non-taxable employee benefits in your workplace? Call one of Alberta’s most trusted employee benefits companies, Benefits Strategies Inc., at 1-780-437-5070 to speak with one of our benefit advisors.

Couple planning employee benefits with charts, tablet and calculator.

Budget Employee Benefits for Small Business

budget-employee-benefits-small-businessFor many small businesses, budgeting for employee benefits may seem like building your own Fabergé egg, representing money and resources that perhaps you feel could be better spent elsewhere.

Instead of viewing it as an expense, if you consider employee benefits for staff retention and employee satisfaction then it can really be viewed as employer benefits; the advantages to your own business can be significant.

Many successful small businesses utilize employee benefits to attract and retain employees, avoiding the pitfalls and significant costs of employee turnover. Most employers experience employee turnover whenever the mental and physical health of their employees begin to decline and there is no support available.

Cost of Employee Turnover

The Sasha Corporation, an HR consulting firm founded in 1984, averaged results of 15 studies and determined that the average cost to turn over an employee making just $8 an hour was $9,444.47 per turnover!

Taking away averages, consider that each position in a company, especially for high-tech companies or regulated positions such as health care, can skyrocket to over $100,000 of specialized training per turnover.1

Budgeting for employee benefits to retain employees can be of significant value to your business.

Employees are less stressed knowing their company is there to take care of them during times of illness, and employees are more likely to show loyalty to your business, thinking of it as their career and not just “a job.”

Employee Benefits Options

If your small business is on a budget, our employee benefits specialist at Benefit Strategies can help you find the right balance. It is possible to offer affordable employee benefits, to help you provide benefits solutions to your employees, while still considering your bottom line.

For instance, a common solution for small businesses on a budget is to cover 50% of the cost for employee benefits, which incidentally, is also tax deductible for your business. Covering half the costs is a great way to let your employees know you want to invest in their well-being, and also has an added benefit of safety; employees are less likely to abuse their plan when they are paying for part of it.

Another option is a health spending account, which is a self-insured private health plan that is available in Canada. These plans allow employees (and employers) to pay into them over time, and be available to employees when they need it for whatever they require, such as glasses, massages, and eye surgery.

Flexible employee benefits plans (aka Flex Benefits) offer customizable packages that can be tailored to the individual needs of an employee. These flex benefits plans are great for employees who have chronic conditions or long-term rehabilitations, or for those who see their own value in benefits such as chiropractic services, massage therapy, or retirement options.

Flex benefits are becoming increasingly popular with small businesses as employees are actively seeking out companies that offer them. For some employees, they are the best employee benefits option as they are tailored to their very specific needs.


Whatever option you choose for budgeting for employee benefits with your small business, it is highly recommended that you educate your employees about their employee benefits plan and what it offers them and their family.

Hosting an employee meeting to go over their benefits plan is a great opportunity to find out if employees are happy with their plan. Employees who understand the employee benefits you are offering to them will go a long way in their belief that your company is taking care of them and is there to support them.

Budgeting for employee benefits offers a significant overall benefit to your business, no matter how simple or elaborate your benefits package may be. Reducing employee turnover and, therefore, reducing costs of training new hires, as well as providing a piece of mind to your employees, will all help to reduce overall stress while increasing employee satisfaction and productivity.

Take care of your employees and they will take care of you!


Have more Questions about budgeting for employee benefits and services?
Call: Daryl or Tammy: 1-780-437-5070
Tweet: @BenefitStratInc
Email: inquiries@benefitstrategiesinc.ca