Would you pass up a raise? I’m sure the answer is ‘No!’ You may even be thinking, “What raise?” since many firms have put a freeze on raises due to the economic crunch. So it’s more important than ever to advantage of benefits offered by your employer. This may be a way for you to hike your income, though you may not see it in your pay check.
Why should you be interested in those benefits? Some will result in a tax savings to you. Others will have a positive impact on your future, including your ability to transfer to a different practice area or department (which could result in an increase in salary) and the funds you will have on hand when you retire. Some will improve your quality of life.
Here are a few possibilities you’ll want to check for:
Health Insurance. This is a number one priority. Be sure to enroll your first day on the job.
401(k) Plan. If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, be sure to enroll and make regular contributions, regardless of your employer’s contributions. There are tax benefits. For many of us, these funds and our Social Security benefits will be our only retirement income. The Department of Labor requires that if an employer has a 401(k) Plan, it must be offered to you once you qualify for it. Don’t let your employer ‘forget’ to offer it to you.
Section 125 Plan. A Section 125 plan provides tax savings by reducing employee medical premiums from gross salary prior to calculation of federal income and Social Security taxes. This is one I take full advantage of. It’s difficult to predict your total expenses for the coming year (and you are stuck with your prediction, even if you didn’t calculate having to have a root canal!) but it’s still worth doing.
Paid Time Off. Many employers have a ‘use it or lose it’ policy. Don’t give up that time! Even if you don’t lose it, do use your vacation and personal days (whatever it’s called where you work) because the break will do wonders for your attitude and mental health.
College Tuition. This is another gimme. Don’t delay! Never pass up an opportunity to improve your skills and increase your knowledge. If you can get tuition reimbursement, be sure to go for that degree. Having it may mean you’ll be able to advance within the firm or the company. It may mean that you can get a better job with a higher salary somewhere else. Without it, you may be stuck where you are forever. And don’t tell me it’s too late to start your higher education adventure. The years will pass whether you do it or not.
Certifications. Passing a certification examination doesn’t always result in a higher salary, but it never hurts to have it. In some cases, you absolutely cannot advance without it. The certification will demonstrate your discipline, your level of knowledge, your professionalism, and your credibility. There are other certifications besides those just for paralegal, such as the CPCU (Certified Property Casualty Underwriter) and CRM (Certified Risk Manager).
Professional Association Memberships. Even if you don’t anticipate being an ‘active’ member (and I do encourage you to take that route), this is a great way to stay on top of what’s happening in your profession. You’ll have networking opportunities, as well as opportunities for continuing education.
Continuing Education. Again, never pass up a chance to upgrade your skills and expand your knowledge. Perhaps a course isn’t exactly in line with what you do, but you never know where your life will take you and what you’ll be working on down the road. You may work in bankruptcy right now, but IP may be in your future.
Publications and Books. Will your employer pay for subscriptions to professional journals? How about books for your practice area?
Notary Public Commission. This is another ‘no brainer.’ You probably need this in your present employment and it ‘travels’ with you if you move on.
Gym Membership. Healthy employees are happier and more productive. You can find time in your day to get in some exercise…especially if your employer is paying for the gym membership.
Equipment. Will your employer pay for your cell phone plan? A BlackBerry? A laptop? Don’t pass those up!Overtime: Overtime is not a benefit. It is earned and most paralegals are entitled to receive it. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes standards for overtime pay and requires employers to pay covered employees not less than one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 in a work week. Please stand firm on this right. Do not ‘give’ your time away.
Your challenge: Know your benefits package inside and out. Sit down with the person in charge of benefits where you work and make sure you understand everything that’s available to you. Find out what steps you have to take for each one, how you enroll, get approval, get reimbursed, etc. If you’re taking college courses or attending continuing education programs, be sure to provide a report for your personnel file and keep a copy so that you will have the information for your next salary review. Your benefits can add up to more dollars in your pocket. You don’t want to miss out on
©2010 Vicki Voisin, Inc. Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or Web site? You can so long as you include this entire blurb with it: Vicki Voisin, “The Paralegal Mentor”, delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by achieving goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She publishes a weekly ezine titled Paralegal Strategies and co-hosts The Paralegal Voice, a monthly podcast produced by Legal Talk Network. More information is available at www.paralegalmentor.com