Credit: Ludwig Simbajon on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
(WOMENSENEWS)--For working parents, the job benefits you get after having a baby in the United States are a crap shoot.
Some parents have access to paid leave, others don't; some are able to take advantage of flexible schedules; others aren't. Some work at companies that are required by federal law to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave; others aren't so lucky.
It all depends on where you work and who you work for.
Adoptive working parents seem to have fewer supports at their disposal, according to a recent report released by the Washington-based Institute for Women's Policy Research. While the federal government treats them equally under the Family and Medical Leave Act--a federal law that allows certain employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for new babies, sick relatives or oneself because of illness--it seems that some employers treat them as second-class citizens.
Nationwide statistics about adoption benefits are hard to come by. But an institute survey of the 100 "best companies" for working mothers listed in Working Mother magazine shows that leave benefits for adoptive parents were less generous than those for biological ones.
Nearly three-quarters of the companies surveyed offer more than four weeks of paid leave to biological mothers, but only one-third offer more than four weeks of paid leave for adoptive parents, according to the institute. Fourteen percent of these companies, meanwhile, offer more than 12 weeks paid leave to biological mothers, but none offer the equivalent to adoptive parents.
One of the companies on the list, Deloitte, LLP, offers 14 weeks of paid leave for birth mothers but only eight weeks of paid leave for adoptive parents.
Adoptive parents deserve the same kind of supports that biological ones get.
They may not need time to recover from labor and delivery, but they do need time to complete the adoption process and care for and bond with their new babies. They may not face medical bills or insurance premiums, but they do shoulder the expense of adoption, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars per child. And because they don't give birth, working adoptive mothers don't qualify for short-term disability insurance coverage, which provides at least some economic support to many new biological moms.
One friend who adopted a daughter last year was required to stay in Los Angeles for 10 days after the birth mother delivered the baby, even though she lived and worked in Chicago. A single parent who had already shelled out some $45,000 to adopt her daughter, she took six weeks of unpaid leave from her job after her baby was born but did not qualify for short-term disability because she hadn't given birth, leaving her without any employer-provided financial support to cover her time off from work.
The only help available to her was what she calls the "very lame" federal adoption tax credit. Because it is not refundable, many lower- and middle-income families cannot take full advantage of the credit. Advocacy groups are working to change that so that it benefits more people across the income spectrum. "If it had been a credit that came back in my pocket, at least it would have helped defray the cost" of the adoption, she said. "Thanks a lot, government!"
Another friend, writer Amy Nazarov, was overcome with a wholly unexpected bout of depression after she brought her son home from South Korea, a condition she assumed only afflicted biological parents. Not so. In an article she wrote earlier this year for Slate magazine, she notes that a 2012 study suggests that between 18 and 26 percent of adoptive mothers struggle with post-adoption depression, a fact that flies in the face of societal assumptions that adoptive parents don't require the same kind of supports as biological parents.
The study, she writes, explores the widely held--but mistaken--belief that "the mother who doesn't carry a child for nine months or doesn't go through labor does not require as much help after the child comes home, does not need respite care or someone to unload the dishwasher or put a few casseroles in the freezer."
She herself had assumed as much, until she discovered otherwise when she brought her son Jake home.
There's equality on the legislative front, at least.
The Family and Medical Leave Act treats biological and adoptive parents equally. And the three states that have enacted laws offering some paid leave to parents--California, New Jersey, and, last month, Rhode Island--make no distinction between biological and adoptive parents.
"As we have seen in the two states with similar programs, California and New Jersey, and through worker and employer experiences, paid leave policies are good for working families, businesses and local economies," said Debra Ness, president of the Washington-based National Partnership for Women and Families. "Soon, Rhode Island and its working families will reap the benefits of this strong and comprehensive bill, which will go into effect in 2014."
Paid Leave More Common
Among employers, paid leave for adoptive parents has become more common, at least among those hailed in Working Mother magazine. The percentage of companies offering at least some fully paid leave to adoptive parents has grown from 46 percent in 2006 to 80 percent in 2012. And the share of companies offering more than four weeks of paid leave to adoptive parents has risen from 16 percent in 2006 and 32 percent in 2010.
Arnold and Porter, for example--the international law firm based in Washington, D.C., that is on Working Mother's top-100 list--offers 18 weeks of paid leave to the primary caregiver regardless of whether he or she is a biological or an adoptive parent, according to the institute. And Bank of America offers 12 weeks parental leave for both biological and adoptive parents.
Wendy's, while apparently not a strong ally of farmworkers, goes all out for adoptive parents. All of the fast-food chain's employees are eligible to receive more than $25,000 per adopted child and six weeks of paid job-protected leave to bond with their new children. That's because it was founded by the same man who founded the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of adoptive families and urges employers to provide benefits to adoptive parents.
"We believe parity is important in the workplace," said Rita Sorenen, president and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation. "We understand there is a medical difference between giving birth [and adopting] and we're not saying there should be medical parity." But adoptive parents deserve equality on other issues such as time off of work to bond with children and assistance with expenses, if possible, she said.
The group's campaign to encourage more employers to provide adoption supports may be paying off: In 1990, only 12 percent of major employers offered a financial adoption benefit, according to a 2012 study of 1,000 major employers by Aon Hewitt, a global human resources and insurance corporation. By 2012, that percentage had surged to 56 percent.
"Not that long ago, it was a bleaker story," Sorenen said, adding: "That's changed so much."
Let's keep that momentum going.
Allison Stevens is a writer in Washington, D.C. She works for a public relations firm whose clients include the National Partnership for Women and Families. These opinions are her own.
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