By Kirsten McIntyre, NEWS 9
OKLAHOMA CITY -- There's an old saying, leave your worries at home. But with people nationwide struggling to pay their bills, all that stress can make it hard to focus at work.
In response to the economic downturn, a growing number of employers are jumping in to lend a helping hand to bail out their employees.
As a patient care tech, Felix Ruiz works hard for his money. But his son's heart condition and his family's needs leave him with little to spare. Then, his mortgage rate spiked. He fell behind on his house payment. He tried everything, and then he turned to an unlikely source- his employer.
"We're able to loan an employee up to $5,000," said Chaplain Robert Jakoby, a company loan officer. "It's simply for those who have critical needs like electricity is going to be turned off, like the mortgage."
Nearly 125 workers at Ruiz's company have gotten interest-free loans so far this year.
The Society for Human Resource Management said it's a growing trend for employers to help rescue workers in dire financial need. And it's not just loans; one in five bosses said they're receiving more requests for pay advances from employees this year than last.
"Companies are beginning to become sensitive to what employees are going through in regard to the mortgage meltdown," Steven Williams, the Director of Research for the Society for Human Resource Management said.
Eighty-five percent of companies now allow 401K hardship withdrawals, where you can take money out of your retirement plan for certain emergencies without paying it back. A growing number of companies are also offering seminars and hotlines to financial counselors.
The Employee Assistance Professionals Association said there's a reason companies are now adjusting benefits to meet today's needs.
"A lot of times, good employees are hard to find, so the trick for most businesses is, 'How do you hang on to that person?'" said David Worster of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association.
Ruiz's company agrees helping an employee is not only the right thing to do, but it's a good business move, too.
"They become a better employee number one, not only with loyalty, but you take a lot of the stress out of their life," Jakoby said.
But experts said there are some concerns with employers jumping in, especially when giving out loans.
"If you don't have enough money to pay your mortgage, your other bills, and now you're adding another bill to be paid even though it's a no interest loan, that's a problem," Worster said.
That's why Ruiz's company has strict eligibility guidelines and offers rental assistance when necessary. A no-interest loan was just what Ruiz and his family needed. His son is feeling better and he's up on his mortgage payments. He's eager to repay his boss, in more ways than one.
"I can concentrate better not just thinking about what I have to do to stay in my house, but to work and give my best for my patients," Ruiz said.