Employment Benefits

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employment benefits

Companies vary widely on adoption benefits provided to employees. According to the Bureau of National Affairs, "An adoption benefits plan is a company-sponsored program that financially assists or reimburses employees for expenses related to the adoption of a child and/or provides for paid or unpaid leave for the adoptive parent employee."

Financial Reimbursement

Some companies offer financial reimbursement for adoption, reasoning that health insurance coverage pays for much of the cost of the hospital bill for the birth of a biological child and adoptive parents should receive a related benefit. Other companies will pay for part or all of the actual hospital expenses of a birthmother if the child is adopted by an employee.

Reimbursable fees are usually agency and attorney fees. Numerous companies who provide reimbursement will also cover medical expenses for the newborn child and/or the birthmother, physical examinations and the cost of short-term foster care for the child.

Corporations who do provide adoption benefits usually provide a cash payment to help cover adoption expenses; for example, some companies pay adoption expenses up to a ceiling of $2,000 to $3,000.

Payment may be on placement of the child or finalization of the adoption, depending on company policy. In addition, payment may be based on documented expenses, or the company may elect to give the employee a flat sum.

In 1995, Hewitt Associates surveyed more than 1,000 companies to elicit information about employment benefits. The researchers found that 23% offered some form of adoption benefits, an 11% increase over the number of companies offering such benefits in 1990.

In 1999, Bright Horizons Family Solutions and the William M. Mercer Company released the results of their joint study of "work/life initiatives." Four hundred major corporations had responded to their survey. Of these companies, 22% offered adoption subsidies to their employees and 6% were considering offering this benefit.

According to the study, "one of five companies offers adoption subsidies, which amount to $3,000 on average. Among 80 companies that indicated how much adoption support they offer, nearly all allow funds to be used to cover both public and private adoptions. Very few companies stipulate the age that a child must be in order to be covered under the adoption policy. However, less than half of the companies with an adoption policy will cover adoptions of a grandchild or stepchild. Nearly all of these companies allow adoption subsidies to cover legal fees and agency/placement fees and over half will cover birth mother expenses, child's medical treatment prior to adoption, and travel costs for foreign adoption."

Some companies are very generous; for example, in 1999, Timberland, in Stratham, New Hampshire, was listed as one of Fortune magazine's "Best Companies to Work for in America," in part because, according to the article, Timberland offers up to $12,000 for adoption assistance.

Leave/Vacation Benefits

Leave policies vary widely as well. Some companies provide adopting parents with the same parental leave that would be given to biological parents.

Of course, since the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act, adoptive families are entitled to the same unpaid leave time (up to 12 weeks) to care for a child as other employees. But it must be stressed that FMLA leave is unpaid and thus many workers will only use a few weeks of unpaid time.

If the parent is adopting an older child, it may be difficult for an employer to understand why someone who is not adopting a baby needs time off. (The adopted child may or may not need the adoptive parent full-time in the short-term, depending on the situation.) As a result, the employee may be forced to take leave without pay.

Adoption benefits provided by corporations are optional unless dictated by state law. Less than a dozen states require mandatory paid parental leave for adoptive parents who wish to take such a leave.

Reasons for Providing Adoption Benefits

According to the National Council For Adoption, employers provide adoption benefits for three key reasons: (1) as an equalizer for adoptive parents to parents who are covered by and receive pregnancy benefits, (2) as a way to build a favorable image of the company among employees and (3) as a public relations tool to enhance the company's public image. It should also be noted that adoption benefits do not generally cost a company a great expense since far fewer employees adopt children than those who "birth" children.

Prospective adoptive parents should check with the personnel or benefits office of their companies before adopting a child to learn what is and is not covered in the areas of reimbursement, leave and insurance coverage.

They should not rely on what a clerk says are their entitlements because often lower-ranking individuals may not realize that adoption benefits are provided by the company. It's not an everyday occurrence for people to apply for such benefits; hence, they may be unknown or forgotten. (See also MATERNITY LEAVE.)

In 1991, in response to a request from President George Bush that he promote adoption of children with special needs, adopted adult and Wendy's International CEO R. David Thomas launched a business-to-business letter-writing campaign to encourage corporations to provide adoption benefits to employees. (The R. David Thomas Platform, Wendy's International, Inc., P.O. Box 256, Dublin, OH 43017.)

Adoption: Assistance Provided by Selected Employers to Adopting Parents, General Accounting Office GAO/HRD-47FS, December 1989.

Adoption Assistance: Joining the Family of Employee Benefits (Rockville, Md.: Bureau of National Affairs, 1988).

Adoption Benefits Plans: Corporate Response to a Changing Society (Philadelphia, Pa.: National Adoption Exchange, n.d.).

Corporate Support for Adoption Grows, National Adoption Reports, May-June 1986, 2.

Dana E. Friedman and Beth Umland, 1998 Survey on Work/Life Initiatives, Bright Horizons Family Solutions and William M. Mercer, Inc., January 1999.

Marilyn Manewitz, "Employers Foster Assistance for Adoptive Parents," HR Magazine 42, no. 5 (May 1997): 96.

National Committee For Adoption, Adoption Factbook: United State Data, Issues, Regulations and Resources, (Washington, D.C.: National Committee For Adoption, 1989).

Work & Family: A Changing Dynamic, A BNA Special Report, The Bureau of National Affairs, 1986.

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