As Adoption Awareness Month draws to a close, a big thumbs up goes to New Jersey Sen. Stephen M. Sweeney whose newly introduced bill, S-2249, would allow employees in the Garden State up to 12 paid weeks off under the state’s temporary disability insurance program to care for a newly adopted child. This is the same insurance system that benefits employed women who give birth to their children. Since 1993 in New Jersey, unpaid leave to care for a newly adopted child has been available. But it was unpaid. For many folks, such a loss of income just isn’t a viable option. Factor in the myriad adoption expenses and it’s darn near impossible.
Since my employer doesn’t have an adoption leave policy, when I took time off to become a mom, it was unpaid. I had presented all sorts of well-crafted arguments for implementing a policy, but got nowhere. And since quitting wasn’t an option financially (and if we ever wanted a sibling for Maeve, it definitely wasn’t an option), I had to put my tail between my legs and take the time off with no pay. I did surrender all of my vacation time so that a couple weeks of the leave had at least some money heading my way.
In my case, the frustration wasn’t eased by the fact that a colleague of mine was pregnant about the same time as I was waiting for “the call” that we were placed — and she was entitled to the paid leave, plus her vacation time and sick time. And she didn’t come back to work once her leave concluded.
My issue is not with the fact she didn’t come back — that’s her choice. My problem with it is the leave and additional benefits were all her right. A right that I fought for and lost. At the time, having been with the company 10 years, I had some 90 days of sick time accrued. I even offered a block of those in return for a smaller block of paid time off. Denied.
So, what are employers afraid of? That somehow folks who adopt won’t be coming back to work and the employer will be out its “investment”? I don’t get it. New parents are new parents are new parents. Some come back, some don’t. That shouldn’t matter. What does matter is that people — all people — should be able to create or add to their family and not have to worry about being able to pay the mortgage at the same time. Whether an employer problem, a legislator problem or a societal problem — it just shouldn’t be. There are good employees, good people, out there who have enough trouble just finding the money in order to adopt. Once they successfully navigate the adoption course to parenthood, why are we (whoever that is) making it so hard for them to be able to spend a few measly weeks with their child once she or he arrives?
It’s about time adoption is afforded the same weight in how families are made — we shouldn’t have to choose between our job and bonding with our new family. California’s paid family leave made history in 2002 — come on New Jersey, it’s your turn!