Tesla rolls out employee loan benefit as factory workers cope with unpredictable hours

Key Points
  • Employees at Tesla have a new "financial well-being" benefit, affordable loans via Salary Finance.
  • Some workers said while they like the new financial benefit, it is a band-aid solution to unpredictable income resulting from shifts cut short for maintenance, repairs or unexpected shut-downs.
  • This week, Tesla experienced Model 3 production glitches and workers say they were sent home early from their shifts in Fremont.
Workers assemble cars on the line at Tesla's factory in Fremont. David Butow (Photo by David Butow/Corbis via Getty Images)
David Butow | Corbis News | Getty Images

Tesla has rolled out a new benefit for its workers: employee loans, facilitated through the London-based financial tech start-up Salary Finance, and funded via its partner Axos Bank.

In correspondence distributed to Tesla employees and seen by CNBC, the companies said that workers could use the new benefit to borrow money at relatively affordable rates and pay it back directly out of their paychecks.

Typically, Salary Finance lets workers borrow up to 20% of their salary and pay it back at rates under 5%. The company spun out of Blenheim Chalcot in London, and is venture backed by that firm along with insurance giants Legal & General.

By offering a "financial well-being" benefit, Tesla gives active employees a way to handle their debt and expenses without turning to higher-cost alternatives like a 401(k) loan, credit cards with a high annual percentage rate, or traditional payday loans. That takes some pressure off those who would leave the company in search of higher wages, and could potentially stem attrition.

The electric vehicle maker does not make money when employees take loans through the service, according to the Salary Finance website for Tesla employees.

Three current employees told CNBC that they are happy to have another financial benefit, but view employee loans as a Band-Aid solution. They said they would prefer more predictable income from a set, 40-hour work week, or if possible, better wages and meaningful raises. These people declined to be named because the company does not authorize them to talk to the press.

Six current and former employees at the Tesla Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada, and car plant in Fremont, California, said raises and bonuses typically don't cover cost-of-living increases.

Several current and former employees said annual raises are typically capped around 2% for the people who are rated among the very best performers by their managers during official reviews. One former Tesla employee described receiving an annual raise of less than 1% and three shares of stock as a bonus after a year of good but not spectacular performance.

Schedules are also irregular, which affects hourly employees and contractors.

In recent weeks, for example, Tesla sent workers home early from their shifts after glitches at the Fremont car plant. In the production line under the tent at the site, conveyors have broken down at the point where cars are carried forward for "battery marriage," where workers install heavy battery packs into the Model 3 sedans and join two halves of the cars together. Inside the main building, there have been troubles with camera calibration, where employees test the in-vehicle cameras on a Model 3 to make sure they are working properly in concert with sensors to enable Tesla's semi-autonomous-driving features.

Tesla also told some workers not to come in to work at the Gigafactory during what employees described as unexpected maintenance and cleaning.

Tesla declined to comment.

On Thursday, the company announced in a filing that it's looking to raise up to $2 billion in convertible notes and shares, with CEO Elon Musk committing to buy $10 million in shares in the offering. Tesla shares closed up 4.3% Thursday.

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