The American Community Survey reports that around 22% of California’s children live in a single-parent household. Being a single parent comes with some struggles that can be made more difficult if an employer looks negatively at the needs of a single parent.
A single parent may not have a strong support system to help care for children when they’re sick or injured. This can lead to unfair, sometimes discriminatory, treatment from an employer. Worse, single parents often need the money and will withstand abusive treatment and stay silent just to have the job.
As a single parent, you have rights in the workplace. Whether you’re divorced, not in a relationship when adopting, fostering, or having a child, or have a family member who is in the military and away on active duty, your status as a single parent cannot be used against you. You’re entitled to time off and the same treatment as any other worker.
Take Time Off With the Help of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and California Family Rights Act (CFRA)
In 1993, FMLA passed and has been helpful for single parents who need time off to care for a child. Not everyone qualifies, so you should talk to your HR department. Ask to see the company’s options for paid and unpaid leave and documentation regarding FMLA and CFRA.
In order to be eligible for FMLA leave, you must:
- Have worked at least 1,250 hours for your employer
- Have worked at that employer for a minimum of 12 months (Not necessarily consecutive)
- Work in a location that has 50+ employees at that location or within 75 miles
In California, CFRA offers improved eligibility that FMLA doesn’t. As of January 1, 2021, CFRA provides family medical leave to employers in workplaces with five or more employees rather than 50 or more. The workplace mileage requirement found in FMLA was eliminated from CFRA in January 2021. Employees still need to have worked for the employer for 12+ months and 1,250+ hours.
Additionally, the qualifying reasons to get FMLA increased under CFRA. It doesn’t just have to be a child or spouse/partner. CFRA covers the care of a parent, grandparent, sibling, adult child, or a partner’s child.
Before January 1, 2021, it was a rule that divorced parents or couples sharing custody of a child who works at the same location had to split up the 12 weeks of FMLA time off. Now, parents, grandparents, or partners who qualify for FMLA get 12 weeks each.
FMLA covers pregnant women, while CFRA only provides help if you’re experiencing complications with your pregnancy. But, FMLA isn’t as willing to cover a domestic partner vs. a spouse, while CFRA covers domestic partners.
Why do these differences and similarities matter? The most important thing to remember is that if you qualify, you get 12 weeks of unpaid leave through FMLA. You also get 12 weeks with CFRA. That makes it possible to take a full 24 weeks of unpaid leave off, which is important if you or your child, parent, or sibling, etc. is sick and needs you to stay home for now. When you apply for leave, your employer has to respond within five business days, but you might have to provide a note from your doctor.
Give as much notice as you can. Generally, the rule of thumb is at least one month if there’s an event like an adoption or childbirth. Emergencies aren’t predictable, so ask for leave as soon as you know you need it.
Pregnancy Laws for Single Moms
Women who are pregnant or had a child get four months of pregnancy disability leave. This leave can be taken after the child is born or before if there are pregnancy complications. It can be adjusted if a pregnant woman’s needs change. By California law, if a company gives a worker more than four months off for a temporary disability, they must provide the same amount of time off to a pregnant woman.
When you want to return to your job, the employer cannot refuse to reinstate you. Pregnancy disability leave doesn’t protect women from being laid off if a company has to lay off workers.
In 2014, a federal jury in San Diego awarded a woman $185 million when she was demoted from her management job after becoming pregnant and then fired. She filed a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit and won.
Workplace Discrimination Laws That Apply to You
Anti-discrimination laws in the workplace can be helpful to a single parent. There is no federal law protecting single parents as a class, but there are protections based on marital status. Your employer cannot deny you a promotion or salary increase simply because you’re unmarried.
A California Christian college fired an unmarried worker after she became pregnant. They cited strict religious policies regarding abstinence outside of marriage. Her lawyer claimed nowhere in the policy did it say a worker would be fired for being unmarried and pregnant. Not only that but the woman’s boyfriend was offered a job at the same time she was fired.
Gender discrimination is another factor. A California police lieutenant kept applying for promotions, but she kept losing the promotions to men. When she lost another promotion to a man who didn’t do as well on the exam, she talked to the chief who made a comment about a single mom not “being available.” She filed a gender discrimination lawsuit.
If other workers make comments on a single mom’s body after having a child, that can be sexual harassment. If that single mom breastfeeds and isn’t being given a quiet, private space with a chair, table, sink, refrigerator or cooler, and locking door to express her breast milk, that’s part of the Affordable Care Act’s Fair Labor Standards Act, which provides protections for women for a year after the birth of her child. This can happen to everyone, but a single mom may take the abuse in order to keep her job.
Don’t Delay Getting Legal Advice
Don’t wait to get legal advice. The worst that can happen if you ask is that you’re told you’re not protected. It’s better to hear “no” than to learn you would have been covered, but the statute of limitation has passed and it’s too late. Ask questions if you’re not sure the treatment you’ve received as a single parent is fair.
Reach out to Shegerian Conniff to talk about your situation. If you’ve been terminated or discriminated against as a single mom, single dad, or grandparent raising your grandchild, you have rights. Our attorneys help you understand your rights in terms of your legal issue and offer the guidance you need to take the next steps towards fair treatment in the workplace.