You might love your job, but even if you have the best benefits package in the world, are you sure you know how it all works?

Many employees take a job looking first at the salary and second at the benefits package, but they really are equally important. The salary might take care of your immediate financial needs, but your benefits are for what you might need in the future.

Whether you are taking a new job or have been working for the same place for a decade, review your benefits package so you know exactly what’s in there.

How Much Time Off Do You Get?

Is your time off lumped into a sick/vacation/personal time off package? That’s great if you get four weeks of time every year and you never get sick. But nurses know the sheer physical demands of their job can easily lead to a muscle strain or worse. Do you know what happens if you use all that time up and then get ill? How much notice do you need to give before you take time off? If you need to go to a doctor’s appointment, is that considered sick time or vacation time if the two are separate?

What Classes Are Paid For?

If your employer pays for you to go back to school, the benefit is valuable. But will your employer pay for any classes or just those related to your job? Before you register for any classes, make sure you know exactly what your tuition benefit covers.

When Does Disability Kick In?

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If you need to take a longer leave, what are your options? Do you have short-term and long-term disability? When does each one begin and what do you need to have those benefits begin? Some disability plans require you to wait for several weeks (possibly necessitating using up some of your paid time off hours) before the benefits will start. How long does your short-term disability last? How long does the long-term disability last? And make sure if you need this benefit that you know exactly what documentation is required to support your request.

Who Can You Talk To?

Even if you consider it a just-in-case policy, know the best person to talk to at your workplace about any benefits concerns. Do you have a specific human resources rep? How do you get in touch with them? Does your company offer legal assistance? What for? Know your options.

What About Government Benefits?

In general, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is open to all full-time employees in companies with more than 50 employees. That means if you have to leave your job to attend to specific kinds of medical situations for you or for certain family members, you are entitled to time off. But the time off is not with pay – it is just guaranteed time off. Find out what your company’s policy is on taking FMLA time if you ever find yourself in a situation where you need it.

What Are Your Financial Benefits?

Do you have access to retirement accounts or some kind of ESOP plan? When do those kick in? Can you join them at any time? Find out exactly what is required and if your employer contributes anything to the funds.

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What About Health Insurance?

If you need to change your health insurance plan, what are your choices? When can you do that and what reasons allow you to do it before any specific designated time? What are the policies surrounding your health insurance plan?

It’s a good habit to familiarize yourself with your employer’s benefits package every year. Policies and plans change and it’s your responsibility to know what’s going on. And if you ever find yourself in immediate need of a benefit, you will know exactly what to expect.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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