Last year, my employee-benefits costs skyrocketed after one of my employees made a big insurance claim. How can I prevent this from happening again? — Nadine W., Hamilton
I’m living proof that if you replace your staff with interns, you won’t need a benefits program — or even a payroll. Anyhow, despite posing your seemingly straightforward question to six insurance insiders, no “best” solution surfaced. So here are three options to consider. First — and most harsh — don’t cover extraordinary claims! Instead, set up a health spending account (HSA) for each of your employees, giving them a fixed amount of coverage but a choice of what they want covered; they’re on their own for any expense above the max. Second is a group benefits plan, in which your employees are pooled with those of other companies; by spreading the shock of a few extraordinary claims over many firms, group plans provide price stability. Finally, there’s stop-loss insurance for high-cost claims, whereby you’re on the hook for a significant deductible — $10,000 is common — and the insurer covers the rest. With this type of coverage, massive premium hikes occur only if your staff are making claims that are too numerous or costly — in the opinion of the insurer, that is.
I’ve learned through the grapevine that my best salesperson is considering quitting my company for a competitor. How can I stop her? — Susan P., Moncton, N.B.
Uh-oh, Susan — this sounds like a good time to call your lawyer. Hopefully you had your salesperson sign an employment contract containing either a non-compete or non-solicit clause when you hired her. The former would prevent her from working for competitors — provided it were enforceable, as non-compete clauses often crumble in court for being too broad in their restrictions of an employee’s future activities. The non-solicit would prohibit your salesperson from selling to specific clients of yours for a reasonable period of time (say, two years) and within a narrow geographical range (say, your greater metropolitan area). Effectively, she’d be allowed to work for your rival, but not tap her existing client relationships. Luckily, you can still ask her to sign a non-compete or non-solicit, as long as you offer what the lawyers call consideration: something valued by the employee (e.g., a wage increase or promotion) that compensates her for the change in her condition of employment.
I want to start selling to the U.S. market. Should I hide my Canadian identity? — Vy T., Burnaby, B.C.
In most cases, Canadians can drape themselves in the maple leaf when selling stateside. (I recommend accessorizing with a pair of red Manolos). Just remember that our American friends have four primary concerns, regardless of the nationality of the seller: price, quality, utility and ease of transaction. Unless you’ve nailed the first three, you probably shouldn’t be exporting. As for the fourth, one export specialist explained to me that Americans “want to deal with you as though your company was across the street from theirs.” That means you need to take the cost and hassle of customs and logistics issues off the hands of your U.S. buyer while staying price-competitive. (I never said it was easy!) Just keep in mind that in some sectors, such as defence, public transportation and infrastructure construction, U.S. suppliers are often favoured out of political expediency, if not by legislation.