What are eyecare benefits?
Employers have a legal obligation to fund eye tests and prescription glasses for staff who use VDUs. Employees will either be reimbursed for their costs, or benefits funded through vouchers or health cash plans.
Where can employers get more information?
Further information on the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations and the guide Working with VDUs can be found here.
Who are the main providers?
ASE Corporate Eyecare, Boots Opticians, Dolland and Aitchison, Edenred, Intelligent Corporate Eyecare, Optical Express, Specsavers Corporate Eyecare, Tesco Opticians, Vision Express.
Eyecare benefits are highly valued by employees and carry legal obligations for employers, says Georgina Fuller. Vouchers and health cash plans are among the funding options.
Employers have a legal obligation under the 1992 Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations (amended in 2002) to provide staff with basic eyecare benefits. Under the regulations, any employee who uses a visual display unit (VDU) must be provided with company-funded eye and eyesight tests as well as glasses, if required, for VDU use.
In research published by Specsavers Corporate Eyecare in January 2011, 47% of employers said their staff valued eyecare as much as other benefits, and 14% said their staff saw eyecare as the most valued benefit.
Workplace eyecare schemes typically provide pre-paid vouchers to redeem at a selected opticians. Many organisations also offer basic VDU screening/occupational visual tests by in-house clinicians.
Some employers will deal with employees’ optical benefits case by case. Here, an employee will make an appointment at a local optician and be reimbursed by their employer for any costs. Most employers offer a limited contribution for the test and prescription glasses. The employee can then pay any extra costs, for example, if they want a more expensive pair of glasses.
Health cash plan option
Alternatively, employers can provide optical benefits through a company-funded health cash plan. For example, Howard Hughes, head of business marketing at Simplyhealth, says: “The company-paid Simply Cash Plan includes optical benefits as part of its core cover, with three choices that can be added to provide other benefits, such as an employee assistance programme. It starts at £1 per employee per week.”
Some employers will want to provide cover beyond the legal minimum, for example by offering optical benefits through a flexible or voluntary benefits plan. Jim Lythgow, director of strategic alliances at Specsavers Corporate Eyecare, says some opticians can also offer retinal screening as part of an overall health check. “Retinal screening can be used to detect a range of other health conditions, such as glaucoma and diabetes, and so can be a much fuller health check than a standard eye test,” he says.
In recent years, the range of optical benefits has broadened to include money off designer glasses and contact lenses, private medical insurance for acute eye conditions and discounted laser eye surgery.
Sight tests are not subject to tax, but the products surrounding a sight test, such as contact lenses and glasses, are. Lythgow adds: “The prescription must clearly show the prescription is solely for VDU purpose. Where an employer provides a voucher for the purchase of another form of eyewear, there may be a taxable benefit on the cost of providing the voucher.”
Some employers are broadening corporate eyecare benefits to staff who fall outside the regulations, such as business drivers. If an employee had a car accident in which vision was a factor, their employer could be held liable under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 for failing to offer an eye test. Yet just over half (53%) of respondents to Specsavers’ research did not offer eyecare to staff with company cars who regularly drive for their work.
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