Parents who adopt children sometimes feel that their employers do not adequately support their growing family, including through paid leave or reimbursement of adoption costs.
Under the Family Medical Leave Act, parents who adopt a child are entitled to up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave.
Conditions are attached to those rights, including that the employee must have worked for the employer for at least one year (cumulative not consecutive) and worked at least 1,250 hours in the preceding 12 months. In addition, the employee needs to work for an organization that has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius to be eligible for the FMLA.
The unpaid time off portion of the federal benefit leaves many adoptive parents in a difficult financial situation.
Parents will frequently point to the unfairness that they see with birth parents who might receive an additional six or eight weeks of paid time off when a mother delivers a baby and receives medical or sick leave for those first weeks.
To address the needs of their workforce, some employers implement policies supporting adoption.
Adoption presents unique challenges for employees. Sometimes, adoption opportunities are not planned, requiring unexpected extended time off. An adoption also is expensive, making it difficult to afford the process as well as taking the extended unpaid time off under the FMLA.
The average adoption costs between $40,000 and $50,000, according to americanadoptions.com. This cost is consistent with that paid by a Richmond couple who adopted child from Texas a month ago.
The couple contracted with an adoption organization in Texas. When they adopted their first child two years ago, they knew two months out that they were matched with their baby and were able to seek leave from their employers to travel to adopt their baby.
Six weeks ago, things weren’t so well planned. At 11 a.m. on a Tuesday, they received notification of a potential adoption, and by 11 p.m., were making plane reservations to fly to Texas to adopt their baby the next day.
The dad, who works for a financial services company, said his employer’s support enabled him to grow his family. His employer offers $35,000 reimbursement toward adoption costs. This, he said, took a substantial burden off the family. To adopt the baby, they had to wire $40,000 to the adoption agency upon arrival in Texas.
His employer also offers eight weeks of paid parental leave. He took off 13 unexpected workdays from work. Instead of being asked by his manager, “When are you coming back,” his manager asked, “What do you need?”
In a time when unemployment is trending below 3 percent, employers need to find ways to retain their top talent.
In describing his appreciation for this employer, the dad described that about six months ago, another company tried to hire him away. The company offered to double his salary.
He had already been through one adoption process with his first child, and rejected the offer because, in part, of the adoption and other generous benefits offered by his employer.
He said compensation is one aspect of the employment relationship. But when the company’s culture respects the individual needs of its workforce and truly models that culture in times of need (like when he is calling his employer at 11 p.m. saying he is going to be out for 2½ weeks), those benefits are priceless to him.
Employers should continue to evaluate their policies to make sure they promote communication and flexibility. In addition, policies should be equitable to both genders and same-sex couples.
While most people will not adopt a child, that doesn’t make an employer’s adoption policy any less important to those to whom the policy does not apply.
An employer that values its employees to carefully implement generous programs around adoption, infertility and even pet care show their employees that they are in this relationship for the long run.