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90-Day Probationary Period

Issue: Some employers don’t allow new employees to take time off in the first 90 days of employment, even though they are accruing PTO. This policy can be problematic for lower-wage employees, especially when they are the primary caregiver in their family.

Possible Solution: Allow workers to use earned time off or sick days during the 90-day probationary period without penalty. If possible, remove the 90-day probationary period altogether.

Access to EITC/ Tax Prep Consultants

Issue: Research indicates that the Earned Income Tax Credit is one of the most effective measures in improving a lower-income family’s economic security. But many lower-wage employees are not aware that they are eligible or don’t know how to apply.

Possible Solution: Provide access to tax prep and EITC consultants on-site to ensure that lower-wage employees are getting the most out of their tax returns. Employers can also direct employees to free tax prep services offered through your local United Way or other non-profits.

Employer Experience

  • “Tax preparation is a resource that is not always easily accessible and can create a barrier for those who do not understand how to file their taxes efficiently. As a company, assisting with this service would help your employees become more financially stable. Bringing a professional onsite to work with clients, contacting your nearest university to request accounting students, or referring employees to an offsite tax preparation service could be options to support your employees during tax season.”

    Katie Schad, Business Manager

    Beacon of Hope Business Alliance

Access to Parental & Disability Leave Programs

Issue: Often lower-wage workers do not have access to wage protection programs like short-term disability or have enough PTO to continue receiving pay during their parental leave. Even when employees do have access to short-term disability, they receive only 60 percent of their wages, which may be insufficient to support their family. If employees choose to use their PTO, they deplete their banks and have no time saved for when they return to work.

Possible Solution: Provide paid parental leave for six to twelve weeks for both parents, so employees are not harmed financially and retain their PTO banks for when they return to work. They will need that time to care for sick children or elders, go to doctor’s visits, etc. Alternatively, consider providing employer-paid short-term disability or providing employees with access to voluntary employee-paid short-term disability, through payroll deductions. Parental leave should also be extended for adoptions. Additionally, employers should provide and encourage the usage of the full length of leave for both fathers and mothers. Research shows that when men and women take parental leave at the same rate, new mothers are less likely to experience career setbacks after returning to work. Extended leave for both parents also has positive health implications for the baby and parents.

Employer Experience

  • “We determined that while our previous parental leave policies met the standards of what is typically offered by employers, it was still not enough. Some of our employees were literally saving PTO to extend maternity leave, if they knew they were planning on having a child in a year or two. So, we completely reconstructed our policy. Now, child-bearing employees receive up to twelve weeks of paid maternity leave through a combination of short-term disability and Zoo-provided maternity leave. And non-childbearing employees will receive up to 80 hours of paid leave, starting from the time of birth, adoption placement, etc. Further, we went back and retroactively returned the PTO to those women who used it for their maternity leave. The wellbeing of our employees is our priority, so this really was the right thing to do, and it better reflects the value we see and feel in our employees.”

    Jeff Walton, Human Resource Director

    Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

Awareness of Regressive Perks


Issue: Many benefits like increased PTO, bonuses, paid parking, covering costs of uniforms, life insurance, 401K contribution rates and profit sharing are often reserved or enhanced for employees who hold top management positions. These perks could be a game-changers for lower-wage employees.

Possible Solution: Consider how extending some of these benefits to all levels of the organization could enhance the attraction, retention and stability of your overall workforce. For example, increased PTO may have minimal overall cost if it results in less unplanned absenteeism. Out-of-pocket costs represent a higher percentage of salary for lower-wage employees than higher wage employees.

Emergency Child Care

Issue: When a child care provider option has unexpectedly fallen through, or a child is sick and cannot go to their usual place of care, workers must miss work or scramble to find another option.

Possible Solution: Provide employees access to sick-child options by purchasing care through a child care center or through an in-home provider. A similar process can be used to purchase spots at emergency child care centers. Many employees would rather care for their sick child themselves, so consider including this in your PTO parameters.

Employer Experience

  • “Our day care is closed on some holidays that we don’t have off, and I’ve utilized the program to have sitters come to my house and play with him while I work. He’s always enjoyed the sitters, and I appreciate being able to work instead of having to take a vacation day. Without family in town to help out, I’ve found this service to be a lifesaver. Knowing that these sitters and day-care centers have been vetted and had background checks helps me feel more confident about leaving my child in their care when I don’t have any other local options.”

    Suzanne Anderson, Assistant Director Talent


Issue: One emergency cost can derail the financial stability of a lower-wage worker. Managing unforeseen emergencies, like a costly car repair, can result in absenteeism, which means lost pay for the employee and work for their employer. Often, lower-wage employees use predatory lenders for these kinds of expenses which fuels a harmful financial cycle.

Possible Solution: Allow employees to borrow a determined amount against their paycheck, which can be paid back without interest over subsequent paychecks. You can also work with local credit unions, non-profit organizations or work through HR to co-sign a loan with the employee at a financial institution. Some organizations set up this program as a grant instead of a loan, so the employee does not pay back the assistance. Requesting assistance from their employer can feel embarrassing to the employee, so try to minimize the employee’s exposure during this process by limiting the reviewers and requirements to receive the loan.

Employer Experience

  • “We’ve implemented an emergency fund program at Cincinnati Children’s of up to $500 grants that are not paid back by the employee. Requests are reviewed by a committee based on objective criteria. Whether or not a request is approved, we also try to make sure we connect the employee to other relevant resources so that they have the support they need to provide for their families. The response has been inspiring – we’ve even had folks receive grants, then later donate to the emergency fund once they feel they’re back in a stable position.”

    Owen Burke, Human Resources

    Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

  • “Our Employee Emergency Assistance Fund has proven to be an exceptional retention tool, particularly for new employees. Recently, an employee told me that she wasn’t sure she could continue working for us, as she had transportation problems that were causing her to miss work, or arrive late. Her car was in the shop and she was relying on family members to drive her to work. We were able to loan her the money to pay for car repairs and she was able to repay that loan across six months. Her attendance improved and she remains grateful for financial help when she most needed it.”

    Christine Ahr, Director of Human Resources

    St. Joseph Home

Family Meals for Food Insecure Employees

Issue: Food insecurity is a large obstacle for families living paycheck to paycheck. When money is tight, lower-wage employees often are forced to choose between immediate needs for their families. Without proper nutrition, your workforce productivity will decrease, and employees are more likely to become sick.

Possible Solution: Consider implementing a high performance or consistent-attendance incentive system to reward employees with gift cards or meals from the on-site cafeteria or restaurant. If you do not have food available on-site, utilize grocery gift cards or provide catered meals during the work week. Having healthy snacks available in the break room can also help.

Employer Experience

  • “Last year, through a series of events, we learned that some of our employees struggled with food insecurity. The Toolkit opened up our eyes, that even though our employees were working full-time in a cafeteria, they were going hungry. So, we implemented a new food policy that is also attendance incentive. If our employees have perfect attendance within the two-week pay period, we give them a free meal from our cafeteria to take home to their families. We’ve seen a huge success in this program. Our attendance is up and many of the employees have expressed how much this program means to them. Something we are looking at is rescuing the food in our cafeteria that is leftover for the day.”

    Ashley Clos, Director of Volunteers, Community and Government Relations

    The Christ Hospital

Financial Education Services


Issue: Financial literacy is often the largest need for lower-wage employees. Groups with little financial education are more likely to borrow, buy on credit and decrease investments, so a lack of financial literacy can perpetuate poor economic health.

Possible Solution: Provide all employees with financial education classes, so that they can budget and save for the future. Consider additional classes as employees are promoted or given wage increases, so they are prepared to handle a larger cash flow and plan for the future.

Employer Experience

  • “We have financial bootcamp courses that our employees can participate in during their workdays, so it isn’t a barrier to attend outside of work hours. We did this to help our employees navigate financial opportunities and barriers. Feedback from participants has been great with many folks sharing how they’ve actively put their learning into practice months later.”

    Owen Burke, Human Resources

    Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

  • “Financial education has been a big barrier for our employees, especially as they increase their wages. Our third-party financial education coach comes onsite to work with our employees and their spouse/ partner on budgeting, creating a savings account, emergency fund, 401(k), etc. That education is huge, and our nearly all of our employees have taken advantage of the initiative.”

    Christine Stroup, Vice President of Human Resources

    JBM Packaging

No Alternative Transportation

Issue: Workers who do not have a personal car and have difficulty accessing public transportation because of their location or shift times cannot easily get to work.

Possible Solution: Consider a company sponsored and organized van or carpool to get workers from their neighborhoods to their job. Vanpools can pick up from a centralized location along a bus route. Alternately, move employees without personal transportation options to shifts that align with bus schedules.

Employer Experience

  • “One of the greatest obstacles we deal with is transportation. Meaning no access to the bus line, not being close enough to the company, shift times not matching the bus line, and other transportation barriers. These barriers can result in increased absenteeism and tardiness. In the past 11 months our Transportation Program has created access to transportation for 24 people. We have found that creating alternative access to transportation has been the key to gainful employment for our clients. It has allowed our clients to get to work, every day, on time and allowed for eight of our clients to get their own vehicles and become self-sufficient.”

    Katie Schad, Business Manager

    Beacon of Hope Business Alliance

On-site Health Clinics


Issue: The high cost of health care can deter many employees from seeking preventive care, so doctor visits tend to be reserved for emergency situations which are costly to an employer health care plan. Additionally, foregoing preventive care can perpetuate an unhealthy workforce.

Possible Solution: Consider partnering with your insurance provider or a local hospital to have on-site health clinics for employees. Many health care providers offer mobile preventive care resources that employers can utilize for free. These health clinics provide screenings, health risk assessments, immunizations and other health services. If a health clinic is not an option for your organization, add a tele-doc option (where you can Skype with a physician or nurse to get a prescription for common ailments) to your health offerings.