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Adoption vs. Childbirth: A Leave Benefit Comparison

Posted on February 10, 2014
Kayla DineenWritten by Kayla Dineen | Email author

blog-adoption-photoA client recently came to me to as her HR Consultant to let me know that she was going to be having twins through surrogacy and wanted to discuss the short term disability benefits that she would receive as a result of having a child.  As a human resources professional, I provided her with a straight forward response – you will not receive short term disability insurance if you are not physically having the baby yourself, as short term disability benefits are a result of a medical condition, childbirth for example, that prohibits you from physically doing your job. After talking through this with her further, we moved on to discuss the differences between the company’s medical leave policy that specifically referenced childbirth (this particular organization does not offer FMLA) and parental leave policy, which offered four fewer weeks of leave than the medical leave policy.  This particular employee’s frustrations were around one single question: Why am I offered less leave for the adoption of a child than if I had given birth – I still have an infant to take care of?  I realized through conversations with my colleagues that parents who adopt children often have this same frustration and do not understand why they are not offered the same leave benefits as employees who give birth to a child. We are seeing more and more organizations developing leave benefits for employees that take adoption into consideration; while this does not necessarily provide equal benefits to adopting parents, it does provide them with significant benefits that were not previously provided to them.  Below is a comparison of leave benefits that may be available to a new parent who is either adopting or giving birth to a child.

Short Term Disability

Short term disability (STD) insurance is a benefit that provides employees who have experienced a personal medical condition that prohibits them from performing their job with a percentage of their normal salary.  Each company STD policy may be different with regards to the percentage of salary that is paid to the employee, what is considered a qualifying medical condition (some policies do not cover intentional self-inflicted injuries, for example), and waiting periods before STD payment begins for the employee; however, the basic premise of the benefit is standard. The period of time in which an employee may receive STD benefits varies upon their personal childbirth experience but typically ranges from 6 – 8 weeks. As mentioned above, employees who are adopting a child (or having a child through surrogacy) are not eligible for short term disability benefits.

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family Medical Leave Act is a Federal regulation that provides employees who have experienced a qualifying event (as defined by the Act), such as child birth or the adoption of a child, with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to provide care to their new child.  Company policies vary from an administrative aspect (the  Family Medical Leave Act defines an individual as eligible for FMLA as being employed by an organization with more than 50 employees located within a 75 mile radius of each other that has been employed for at least 12 months with at minimum of 1,250 working hours during the 12-month period prior to the request for family leave.  Employees who are both adopting a child or giving birth to a child are eligible for FMLA as long as they, and the organization for which they work, meet the provisions outlined in the Family Medical Leave Act.

Parental Leave

Parental leave is a leave benefit that many organizations that do not meet the requirements of FMLA provide to employees when they give birth and/or adopt a child. The parameter of this leave varies from organization to organization; however, most companies choose to make it similar to FMLA. Essentially, parental leave is an unpaid leave of absence (potentially allowing employees to use their accrued leave during this time) for a determined number of weeks upon qualifying event (birth or adoption).  Most companies have parental leave and STD benefits run concurrently. Parental leave is not mandated by federal law and is a generous benefit provided to the employees solely at the discretion of the company.

Medical Leave

Similar to parental leave, medical leave is a benefit that many organizations that do not meet the requirements of FMLA provide to employees when they experience a medical condition that prevents them from performing the functions of their job, child birth for example.  The parameter of this leave varies from organization to organization; however, most companies choose to make it similar to FMLA.  Medical leave is essentially an unpaid leave of absence (potentially allowing employees to use their accrued leave during this time) for a determined number of weeks upon qualifying event (medical condition).  Most companies have parental leave and STD benefits concurrently.  Medical leave is not mandated by federal law and is a generous benefit provided to employees of organizations that do not meet the FMLA regulations at the discretion of the company. Employees who are adopting a child are not eligible for medical leave as they are not experiencing a medical condition.

Having a child join your family, either through child birth or adoption, is an exciting time! Understanding the basis of the variety of leave options that may apply to your personal situation if you are giving birth or adopting a child will help you to prepare for the conversations you will be having with your human resources department and ease the process of growing your family.

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