Bob Goldman

Is your employer looking at you with concern? Does your manager constantly ask how you are feeling? It may not be because they care about how long you are going to work. It may be because they care about how long you are going to live.

Welcome to the world of corporate-owned life insurance. Or, as it's known by its friends, Dead Peasant Insurance.

The wonders of DPI were recently discovered by a bunch of not-yet-dead peasants who work at the Orange County Record, a newspaper in Southern California. According to a Michael Hiltzik article in the Los Angeles Times, their employer sent them a memo requesting permission to take out life insurance policies on them. The only wrinkle -- the company would collect the death benefit.

It was at this moment the Record's employees learned that when a company buys life insurance on its employees, it is not showing its concern for the employees' families, who may need to replace the measly income of the deceased. Instead, the company is making a bet that if it insures enough employees, sooner or later, the grim reaper will turn the lead that is these marginally useful workers into gold.

To put it in a nutshell: A dead peasant in a coffin is worth more than a live peasant in a cubicle.

It used to be that companies could take out insurance on its employees without getting their permission. This seems fair. If your managers can boss you around while you are living, why shouldn't they be able to supervise you when you are dead? But a spoilsport Congress insisted that employers get their employees' agreement to the issuance of the policies, hence the Record's staff memo. (If one were sufficiently cynical, one might suggest to the management of the Record that a tiny permission slip in the mountain of papers given to new employees in the hiring process would be a better technique. Even if the employee noticed the slip, in this economic environment, who is going to pass up a paying position simply because management will collect a few million simoleons when you are in the prone position?)

If betting on the death of your employees seems unfair, you will probably not be very understanding when I tell you that in the good old days, before complainers got the IRS to change their policies, companies who took out Dead Peasant Insurance actually got a tax break for doing so. As for the big payout that kicks in when the employee kicks it, that is not taxed, either. Since the insurance companies involved also make money by selling the policies in the first place, this makes Dead Peasant Insurance a win-win for just about everybody, except the peasant.

Bob Goldman

Bob Goldman is a business humor writer.

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