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Rights of Adoptive Parents in the Workplace

While adoption is not the most common way of starting a family, it’s incredibly important. It benefits both prospective parents and the children who may otherwise grow up in the foster care system. Still, because it is less common, there is less social awareness of the needs and struggles new adoptive parents may face.

This is particularly noticeable in the workplace, where new parents may already struggle. Frequently, California adoptive parents experience harsher expectations and less sympathy from their employers than colleagues who welcome biological children. This can make it more difficult for your family to settle into your new life, particularly if you are refused time off to bond with your child. 

If you are considering or in the middle of the adoption process, you should be aware of parents’ rights in California. The state specifically references adoption in the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), which dictates how employers must treat new parents.

Do Adoptive Parents Have Different Rights in California?

In short, no. Once you have legally adopted a child, that child is treated as if they were biologically yours. After finalizing an adoption, you have all the rights and responsibilities as you would for a biological child. 

The same is not true of foster families. Fostering children is just as important, but fosters do not always receive the same rights as adoptive or biological parents. The child’s legal parents and the state retain rights and responsibilities for them unless and until they are adopted.

One of the crucial points where the rights of foster, adoptive, and biological parents overlap is at work. Under California law, welcoming a new child into your family in any of these situations is grounds for taking parental leave, taking time off to care for a sick kid, or otherwise prioritizing your responsibilities as a parent. 

California Parents’ Rights in the Workplace

California has a number of laws protecting parents’ rights to fair employment and time off to bond and care for their kids. These include:

  • Freedom From Discrimination: While parenthood is not a protected class, medical needs and requests for covered time off are considered protected in California. No employer may discriminate, terminate, or retaliate against a prospective parent for requesting family leave.
  • Parental Leave: The CFRA requires employers to give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after welcoming a new foster child, adoptive child, or infant to their family. 
  • Paid Family Leave (PFL): If a parent is eligible for unpaid parental leave, they are likely also eligible for PFL. The program compensates workers up to 70% of their average salary for up to eight weeks of bonding leave with any new child. 
  • Childcare Time Off: Employers with at least 25 employees must grant parents and fosters are up to 40 hours a year or eight hours a month of time off to “participate in school and licensed day-care activities” with reasonable notice and after using other sources of leave first. 

There are a few points where adoption does not grant the same rights to workers as giving birth. These include:

  • Leave for pregnancy: The state grants pregnant people the option to take disability leave separately from their child bonding leave if necessary for their health. California adoptive parents do not receive this, since they are not bearing the child themselves.
  • Schedule alterations: Pregnant people have the right to request schedule adjustments and other accommodations to ensure they remain healthy during their pregnancy. 
  • Accommodations for nursing: Similarly, adoptive parents rarely receive nursing accommodations unless they are nursing another child. 

Eligibility for Parental Leave

Not every new parent is eligible for parental leave, unfortunately. The CFRA only applies to public organizations or companies with at least five employees. If you are self-employed or work for a particularly small company, your employer is not obligated to provide you leave or protect your position while you’re out. 

Additionally, even employees at covered businesses must meet two eligibility criteria:

  • You must have worked for your employer for at least twelve months
  • During that time, you must have worked at least 1250 hours for your employer

This is still better than federal FMLA leave. CFRA leave does not have exemptions for critical employees and applies to significantly more employers and employees statewide. 

Do You Need to Inform Your Employer About Adoption?

Some prospective parents are hesitant to inform their employers that they will be adopting. Since parents are not a protected class, they may fear that their employer could fire them. They may just worry that their manager will assume they will be less dedicated to the job as a parent. However, concealing your attempt to adopt a child may be unwise, and may not even be possible. 

For instance, most adoptions require the prospective parents to provide a letter from their employers to prove they have ongoing income and are in good standing. To receive this, you’ll need to tell your employer about your plans.

Furthermore, if your employer is not aware that you are adopting, they do not have to grant you time off. It is better to tell them in advance so they can plan for your eventual time off. If they do retaliate against you for requesting protected leave, you can take legal action to hold them accountable for your losses.

Standing Up for Parental Workplace Rights in California

Adopting a child is a stressful process. The last thing you should have to do once the adoption is finalized is to stand up to employment family responsibilities discrimination alone. At Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP, we can help. We have decades of experience protecting parents’ rights in the workplace and ensuring they receive the leave they’re owed. Learn more about how we can assist you with denied bonding leave requests by scheduling your free consultation.

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