Requirements vs Benefits For Employees

September 15, 2021
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Finding a way to successfully operate a small trade business is already complex enough. But it gets even more complicated once you start hiring workers that must be paid certain employee benefits required by law. However, as these rules and regulations are constantly changing, keeping your business up to date is a time-consuming process that requires plenty of careful consideration.

Below, we’ll explain the difference between legally required benefits for employees and those that field service business owners might simply consider offering to their team. Meanwhile, we’ll dive into some common workplace topics around worker rights – including protective gear, transportation, and maternity leave – to ensure you understand your options.

What is the difference between required and discretionary benefits?

Understanding the difference between legally required benefits and discretionary benefits is pretty straightforward. The former are benefits employers are obligated to pay, with the three basic employee benefits required by law being worker's compensation, health care, and social security. Meanwhile, discretionary benefits are simply extra benefits you decide to provide to workers. This can help your business attract highly skilled workers and stand out from the competition.

Getting to Know the Rules and Regulations

There’s a lot to understand when it comes to legally required benefits and discretionary benefits. That's why we’ve broken down a few key topics to help business owners understand their obligations when hiring field service operators.

Personal Protective Equipment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential for workers to remain safe on the job. Introduced in 2008, employers are obligated to provide a range of safety equipment, including non-prescription eye protection, hard hats, goggles and welding PPE.

While workers can volunteer to use their own PPE, the employer must ensure this equipment is adequate for their role and workplace. However, there are also numerous exceptions to what employers must provide.

This includes ordinary clothing such as long-sleeve shirts, raincoats and work boots, plus lifting belts and sunscreen. Business owners also don't have to pay for non-specialty safety-toe protective footwear like steel-toe boots, as these are often worn outside work and across multiple job sites.

Paid Time Off

Field service operators are not required by state or federal law to provide their employees with paid time off (PTO). However, if an employee does decide to offer this benefit, it may be subject to applicable state laws.

You don’t have to give PTO to your workers, but this discretionary benefit will help set your business apart and promote a positive company culture.

Many field service businesses include paid time off in their employee packages, so you risk losing your workers to the competition if you ignore this demand.

Meal Breaks

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), meal breaks are another discretionary benefit employers do not legally need to provide. But as with many labor laws in the United States, there can be significant differences depending on which state you operate within.

For instance, employers are not obligated to provide meals or breaks to employees in Arkansas. However, Connecticut says workers must receive at least a 30-minute break if they work 7.5 or more consecutive hours.

With this in mind, make sure you check the required employee benefits for meal breaks in your state. Even if you aren’t legally obligated, this is another discretionary benefit that your workers are bound to appreciate.

Maternity and Paternity Leave

For field service operations with more than 50 employees within a 75 mile radius, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) requires parents of newborn or newly adopted children be given 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually. The employee only qualifies for this leave period if they have worked with that same employer for at least a year (or 1250 hours).

There are also several states with differing views on maternity leave. For example, employees in Kentucky can take up to 6 weeks of leave after adopting a child under 7 years old, while Maine provides workers 10 weeks of unpaid leave when working for a company with more than 15 employees.

There are also eight states with publicly funded paid maternity leave, including California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Washington, Connecticut, and Oregon. These states require employees and/or employers to contribute to a paid leave fund.

Tools and Equipment

In most circumstances, field service businesses are under no obligation to provide their workers with tools. Yet making sure your workers aren’t turning up to a job site with the cheapest set of wrenches they can find is critical. Although you can choose to purchase tools for workers outright, many small businesses will loan workers the initial money needed and have them make gradual repayments.

As always, some state laws might impact your business. For instance, New York-based construction companies must provide workers with safety harnesses and proper training when required. In California, an employer may need to provide tools for their workers if they're paid less than double the minimum wage.

Transportation and Gas Mileage

With the average tradesman covering lots of miles over a year, employers will be happy to know they don’t legally (on a federal level) need to cover gas mileage. However, this is another discretionary benefit that many business owners choose to include for their workers.

If you choose to take this approach, you’ll need a clear company policy that outlines what can and can’t be claimed by your employees. For example, it might state that workers must keep a detailed record accounting for their miles while excluding personal use from their claims.

Your business may also be subject to various transportation regulations if you use vans or buses to move employees between work sites, especially across state lines.

Hydration Breaks

Unless your name is Brad Smith, you’re probably already providing your techs with ample hydration. But did you know that providing water for your team is actually required under OSHA? According to the Sanitation Standards, employers must provide enough potable drinking water to meet the health and personal needs of every employee.

Step Up Your Business with FieldPulse

Now that you’ve caught up on the difference between legally required benefits and discretionary benefits, you can take charge of the rest of your business with FieldPulse. Our comprehensive business management app will help you get more done during the day, both from the office and on the move.

From organizing client information and scheduling jobs to processing invoices, you won’t have to worry about stacks of paperwork ever again. Schedule a free demo and find out how FieldPulse can save you time and money today.

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