New tax law fuels changes to benefits and compensation programs
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is fueling changes to corporate America’s employee benefits, compensation and executive pay programs, according to a survey by Willis Towers Watson.
Of 333 large and midsize employers who responded, 49% are considering making a change to at least one of these programs either this year or next.
“The tax reform law is creating economic opportunity to invest in their people programs,” says John Bremen, managing director of human capital and benefits at Willis Towers Watson. “While a significant number have already announced changes to some of their programs, the majority of employers are proceeding to determine which changes will have the highest impact and generate the greatest value.”
The most common changes organizations have made or are planning or considering include expanding personal financial planning, increasing 401(k) contributions and increasing or accelerating pension plan contributions.
Beth Ashmore, senior consultant for retirement risk management at Willis Towers Watson, says when it comes to expanding personal financial planning and increasing 401(k) contributions, for an employer,the value of making adjustments in those areas is to support employees with efforts to prepare and save for retirement.
“Whenever any employer is thinking about making a change in total rewards, they need to be thinking about it from the perspective of the compensation as the benefit,” Ashmore says. “What is the best value and impact I can make for my employees?”
As for increasing or accelerating pension plan contributions, Ashmore says with the tax law change the majority of employers have a short-term opportunity to make a pension contribution and potentially deduct at a higher tax rate at the beginning of 2018. “Going forward, that tax deduction will be less for a lot of employers under the new tax law,” Ashmore says.
Other potential changes to benefit programs include increasing the employer healthcare subsidy, reducing or holding flat the employee payroll deduction, or adding a new paid family leave program in accordance with the Family and Medical Leave Act’s tax credit available for paid leave for certain employees.
At least 64% of employers are planning to or considering taking action on their broad-based compensation programs, or have already taken action. The most common changes organization have made or are planning include conducting review of their compensation philosophy, addressing pay-gap issues and introducing a profit-sharing or one-time bonus payout to all employees.
Steve Seelig, executive compensation counsel at Willis Towers Watson, says when it comes to changing compensation philosophy employers should re-evaluate their pay structure to determine if they want to continue to offer the same compensation.
“Employers may want to consider a more fixed compensation — similar to what Netflix started — where the CEO is paid much more salary and less performance-based compensation,” Seelig says.
Many employers answered questions on addressing pay gaps from the perspective of closing a gender pay gap. However, Seelig says employers could also refer to pay gaps between levels within an organization, such as an associate to a supervisor.
“The CEO pay ratio will be disclosed later on this year and employers could take this time as an opportunity to narrow the gaps between positions before the disclosure,” Seelig says.