Although maternity leave has been a long-standing benefit at New York Life Insurance Company, the firm realized 12 years ago that it offered no comparable benefit to employees who choose to adopt a child.
“There was a gap,” says Kathleen Lavin, assistant vice president in Human Resources for New York Life. “If employees wanted to expand their family through adoption, why shouldn’t they have a benefit? It was the right thing to do” and one that spoke to the company’s core value of “humanity.”
So, in 1998, New York Life launched its Adoption Assistance Program, reimbursing employees for up to $2,500 in qualified adoption expenses, she says. Two years later, it increased that figure to $5,000 and started offering 4 weeks of paid leave to adoptive parents.
Benchmarking Leads to Changes
After benchmarking against other companies last year, New York Life doubled the financial assistance to $10,000. “We wanted to continue to be competitive and help our employees with the increasing costs for adoption, so it made sense for us to raise the benefit,” Lavin says. While utilization of the benefit is low, she says it has a high return on investment in terms of the company’s goodwill. “It speaks to who we are.”
The company follows Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidelines when determining which expenses are eligible for reimbursement, such as agency fees, legal fees, the cost of home studies, medical benefits for the birth mother (when applicable), and travel-related costs, Lavin says. The reimbursement is made through payroll after the adoption is finalized, and the necessary documentation has been submitted.
Recent guidance from the IRS explains how the expanded adoption credit can benefit employees.
The company also enhanced its paid parental leave policy. Under the revised policy, the primary caregiver of an adopted child gets 4 weeks of paid leave, and secondary caregivers are eligible for 1 week of paid leave.
Benefits Widely Available
All employees are eligible for adoption benefits after 1 year of service with the company, Lavin says.
In addition to offering adoption benefits to its 9,000 employees nationwide, New York Life decided in 2008 to extend those benefits to its 11,500 agents as well.
To date, 82 New York Life agents and employees have used the adoption assistance benefits, including Lisa Kaull, director in the company’s Controller’s Department. “My husband and I were fortunate to be able to take advantage of New York Life’s Adoption Assistance Program when we adopted our son,” Kaull explains.
“The company’s program is generous in offering both a financial reimbursement as well as paid time off, both of which provided me with the opportunity to be home with our son full-time during the first few months of the adoption attachment process.
“This critical time is such an important period in the adoptive parent/child relationship because it builds the connection that biological parents naturally have with their biological children. The effects of that time spent together are evident even now, as my son is thriving with his new family and home.”
Annie Patrick, director of Marketing Production, US Life & Agency, for New York Life, also values this benefit. “It is a wonderful feeling to know that I work for a company that truly cares about its employees,” she says.
“New York Life made it possible for us to realize our dream to become parents when my husband and I adopted our daughter. New York Life provided reimbursement for a majority of the adoption fees and provided me with 4 weeks of paid leave to bond with my new daughter. What a great benefit to offer employees.”
New York Life was recently ranked 19th—and first in the insurance industry—on the 2010 Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces List released by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
“New York Life’s Adoption Assistance Program is one of many programs that promote work/life balance and make our company an employer of choice,” says Barry Schub, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for the company. “Policies that allow for time to bond with a new child and financial assistance to help defray the costs illustrate why we attract and retain top talent.”
What to Do
Lavin recommends that employers consider offering adoption assistance. “It rounds out your benefits package. It’s a goodwill benefit that can be provided for a low cost.”
To learn more about offering paid leave or financial assistance to adoptive parents, she suggests visiting the website for the Dave Thomas Foundation. Among other things, the site offers a toolkit for establishing adoption benefits, tips on becoming an adoption-friendly workplace, and benchmarking data on employer-sponsored adoption benefits broken down by state, company size, and industry.