BENGALURU: When 45-year-old Brinda (name changed) tried to adopt a child, every agency asked her the same question: How will you take care of the child while both you and your husband have full-time jobs?
Biological parents get time off from work with provision for maternity, and in some cases, even paternity leave. Adoptive parents are not entitled to the same and companies can decide on whims.
Thankfully, Brinda’s company had an adoption-friendly policy. “My company gave adoptive parents 45 days off work,” she says.
While the extension of maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks under the proposed amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act is currently being debated, no one is considering the disparity in the leave given to adoptive parents, says Swarna Venkatraman, who runs a support group for people who want to adopt.
Adoptive parents, on an average, get 30 to 45 days or four to six weeks, which is less than half of what biological parents are currently given.
Brinda works in a leading IT company and is “so grateful to her employer” for their support that she cannot express it in words. “They were extremely, extremely (for emphasis) supportive,” she says. Besides her paid leave, she was given the option to work from home for a year-and-a-half. Companies, particularly in an IT hub like Bengaluru, also give stipends to people who choose to adopt.
Biological parents are also given benefits like flexible working hours and the work-from-home option. There are companies that give 12 to 16 weeks as adoption leave, but they would be considerably fewer than maternity leave.
Even Brinda wishes her leave was on a par with biological mothers. “Forty-five days are hardly enough to settle down with the child,” she says.
“After my daughter came home two years ago, our leave was spent in travelling to complete the formalities... Bonding with the child happens after that.”
There is the work-from-home option, but it is left to the discretion of the manager. “Thankfully, I had an understanding boss,” says Brinda. “But many new (adoptive) mothers say they face resistance,” she says.
When it is left to the boss, bias against adoption creeps in, says Swarna. “Bosses tell prospective parents not to do it, when they go to ask for leave. If it is for fertility treatment like IVF, they grant leave without any questions. It is seen as a medical procedure,” she says.
Adoptive parents still have to battle against stigma. “This is seen as a clandestine way of becoming a mother and there is this myth that you cannot love the adopted child as much as your biological child... With these in mind, the boss may argue against adoption and believe that he or she is wishing you well. Despite that, when the employee insists on the leave, it turns into a power play,” says Swarna.
“The boss is human, and his or her prejudices will play out. But if the company has policies in place, then the employee can simply demand what is due,” she explains.
However, company policies do not influence people’s decision to adopt, according to Brinda. “That is a very personal decision.” But adoption-friendly policies are a good HR practice. “They better the company’s relationship with its employees,” she says. “They show that the company is progressive and respects people’s decisions.”
When adopting a child, it is essential to get time off regularly — apart from the initial leave — to complete formalities associated with it, says Anik Luke Dhanraj, scientist at Bengaluru Research Centre of Monsanto. In that respect, his company was supportive, he says.
He adopted a girl child in 2012 and says the company also provided insurance cover to both biological and adopted children.