Cafeteria plans - or flexible compensation plans - are enormously popular. Many companies look for ways to optimize their cafeteria plan to offer the most attractive plan to their employees.
However, there is a distinct lack of legislation. With no clear rules, together with the risk that the NSSO or the tax authorities may change their position, there can be a lot of uncertainty about how to proceed.
This happened recently with one of the most popular benefits in the cafeteria plan: the extra-legal child benefit. With this benefit, employees with children could opt for a payment of EUR 50 per child per month. This payment was exempt from social security. Based on the Serviplast judgment of the Court of Cassation (25/03/2019), the NSSO recently decided that the exemption for extra-legal child benefits is no longer applicable in a cafeteria plan.
In this fifth contribution, we take a closer look at the criteria that a sustainable cafeteria plan must meet. We will then discuss several benefits that, in our opinion, should always be included in a cafeteria plan in the long term.
Determining which benefits you should include in a cafeteria plan means considering several criteria. First and foremost, we do not believe that fiscal optimization should be a criterion for including a certain benefit. There must be a specific reason for including a benefit in a cafeteria plan. For example, by introducing a certain benefit, a company can pursue a particular strategy or fill an identified need within the company. By surveying all employees or a specific group of employees, you can determine what is most in demand.
Another good test is to see whether the benefit can be included in a cafeteria plan in another country. After all, cafeteria plans also exist in many other countries and are therefore not a purely Belgian phenomenon. KPMG Belgium recently conducted a study in collaboration with KPMG offices in more than 10 European countries. The preliminary conclusion of this study, which will be published later this year, is that there is a need for flexibility in many other countries and that we see many similar benefits in cafeteria plans in other European countries. This proves that optimization should not be the driving force, but that there is a need for flexibility.
Advantages with a sustainable character
Many employees are entitled to standard hospitalization insurance. In practice, however, we notice that there is a lot of demand for additional insurance, such as ambulatory care and dental care. An employer will not simply make these types of insurance available outside a cafeteria plan, given the high cost. Offering these types of insurance in the context of a cafeteria plan is ideal: the employee benefits from the discounts that the employer receives from the insurer and from the very favourable (para)fiscal treatment. From the perspective of well-being, it is also important for the employer to offer as much protection as possible to the employee and family members. After all, outpatient and dental costs can be very high.
The challenge here is to find an insurer that is willing to participate in a cafeteria plan. We notice that more and more insurers are taking that step, partly because they have noticed that the selection percentages are very high.
Mobility is the perfect example of a 'sustainable' benefit. Every cafeteria plan contains a benefit linked to mobility. In many cases, this is bicycle leasing. A cafeteria plan is the ideal instrument for promoting alternative mobility. Since flexible mobility is so important, we will look at this topic in more detail in a subsequent article.
The working environment is becoming more and more digitized. Since COVID-19, many employees work permanently from home. It is expected that also after COVID-19 employees will work from home on a structural basis. For the employer, it is therefore important that employees have the best IT equipment at their disposal: a good smartphone, a tablet and/or PC, a printer, an extra screen or an anti-noise headphone. Giving these things as extras outside of a cafeteria plan is usually difficult. In many cases, a standard smartphone and laptop are provided, but employees often ask to upgrade this device or provide a second device. The (para)fiscal treatment of a device is already very interesting. There is usually a low benefit in kind (EUR 36 for a smartphone and tablet, EUR 72 for a PC). The biggest point of attention is the choice of a good provider, so that the company is as little involved as possible in the administrative process.
Repayment of pension savings
Everyone realises that it is very important to build up a good pension. In addition to the first pillar (statutory pension) and the second pillar (group insurance), there are still many people who do not pay contributions into the third pillar (pension savings). Via a cafeteria plan, the employer can encourage employees to pay into this third pillar. The employee makes the payments to a bank/insurer of his/her choice but can ask the employer to reimburse this contribution. As this refund is subject to lower employer contributions (8.86%), this refund is also interesting. The sustainable character is also clearly present here: an employer can encourage an employee to start saving for retirement via this route.
Giving everyone the same number of days off makes no sense. Some employees already have great difficulty using up the statutory days off and too many days off only leads to frustration. But there is certainly a need for additional holidays for many employees. This can be permanent, but also due to a temporary problem. Of course, employees can always request unpaid holidays, but if this possibility is offered as standard via a cafeteria plan, it is psychologically much easier to request these days. It is an illustration of the fact that a cafeteria plan is primarily aimed at flexibility and not optimization. A KPMG client, for example, has offered the possibility of purchasing additional holiday days up to a certain maximum and, for certain age groups (e.g. 55+), offers an additional possibility of purchasing additional days.
Within the framework of CSR, it is interesting for all employees of a company to unite around one good cause chosen by the company. Employees can of course set up actions and collect money, but they could also donate money to the charity through the company. If this is done via a cafeteria plan, this can be done in a fiscally optimal way and the employee can therefore contribute more. The employee does lose his tax reduction in his tax return, but ultimately the charity gets more. This is a win-win for all parties and certainly for the employer, who gets the chance to put the spotlight on a good cause, which may be aligned with the company's strategy.
Lifelong learning is crucial. Of course, this can be done through the standard training courses already offered by the company. However, some employees also want to take other courses: a more expensive course, a course that they need for their profession but that is not offered to everyone, or a training course that they cannot use immediately but may be able to use later. For the employer, too, it is important that employees undergo further training. Unfortunately, the social security authorities are of the opinion that the choice of training in a cafeteria plan can no longer be exempted from social security contributions. This is regrettable: the choice of training seems to us to have an eminently sustainable character.