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Workplace Protections for Parents of Disabled Children in California

In California, the intersection of employment law and family responsibilities takes on a significant dimension for parents of disabled children. Balancing work commitments with the demands of caring for a child with disabilities can be challenging. If you’re in that position, it’s critical to understand the legal protections available to you in the workplace so you can maintain your employment while still caring for your kids. 

Federal Laws and Protections for Parents of Disabled Children

Federal laws in the United States provide various protections for parents of disabled children. These laws help ensure people like you have the necessary support and accommodations to balance their work responsibilities with caregiving:

  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for specific family and medical reasons, including caring for a child with a serious health condition. This leave is job-protected, meaning employees can return to their same or equivalent position after the leave.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): While the ADA primarily protects individuals with disabilities, it also prohibits discrimination based on association with an individual with a disability. This can apply to parents of disabled kids. Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees who need to care for a disabled child as long as it doesn’t cause undue hardship to the business.
  • Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA): Protects employee benefits, including health insurance. If an employer provides health insurance, it typically extends to an employee’s children, including those with disabilities. ERISA ensures that employees don’t lose their benefits unjustly, which is crucial for parents managing medical care for their disabled children.

California-Specific Laws and Regulations

California offers additional legal protections for working parents of disabled children, providing more inclusive rights and accommodations. Some of the key California-specific laws and regulations include:

  • Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA): FEHA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who are associated with a disabled person to assist them in performing their jobs. FEHA’s definition of disability is broader than the ADA, offering more inclusive protection.
  • California Family Rights Act (CFRA): CFRA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of protected unpaid leave in 12 months for family and medical reasons, including caring for a child with a serious health condition. CFRA applies to employers with five or more employees, making it more inclusive than FMLA.
  • Kin Care Law: Under California’s Kin Care Law, employees are allowed to use half of their accrued sick leave to care for a family member, including a child.

Examples of Workplace Accommodations You Might Need

Under FEHA, parents of disabled kids have the right to request reasonable accommodations in the workplace to assist them in balancing their job duties with caregiving responsibilities. Here are examples of such accommodations: 

  • Flexible Scheduling: Adjusting start and end times of the workday, allowing for split shifts or modified weekly schedules, or providing time off or adjustments for medical appointments and therapy sessions.
  • Remote Work: Permitting work from home, providing necessary equipment and technology for remote work, or combining telework with in-office work on a part-time basis.
  • Part-Time or Reduced Work Hours: Allowing a reduction in work hours or transitioning to a part-time schedule.
  • Job Restructuring: Modifying job duties that are non-essential or reassigning or redistributing marginal job tasks to other employees.
  • Temporary Transfer to a Less Stressful or Hazardous Position: Moving to a position with less stress or physical demands, if available.

You need to engage in an interactive conversation with your employer when requesting accommodations. Discussing the specific needs related to your child’s care and how the accommodation would assist you in performing your job can help you find a solution that works for you and your employer. 

Navigating Discrimination and Retaliation as a Parent of Special-Needs Children

Unfortunately, discrimination and retaliation against parents of children with special needs in the workplace are all too common. Some of the most common forms include:

  • Disparate Treatment: This occurs when an employee is treated differently or less favorably, specifically because they have a child with special needs. Examples include not being considered for promotions or important projects, receiving lower performance evaluations, or being subjected to negative comments or attitudes from supervisors or colleagues about their parenting responsibilities.
  • Failure to Accommodate: Under various laws, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who are parents of children with special needs unless it causes undue hardship to the employer. Refusal to engage in an interactive process or outright denial of reasonable accommodation requests without proper justification can be considered discriminatory.
  • Harassment: This includes any unwelcome conduct based on the employee’s status as a parent of a child with special needs. Harassment becomes unlawful when the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment or when the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment.
  • Adverse Employment Actions: Retaliation occurs when an employer takes an adverse action against an employee for engaging in a protected activity. Protected activities include requesting accommodations, taking leave under FMLA/CFRA, or filing a discrimination complaint. Adverse actions can include termination, demotion, pay reduction, or unfavorable job assignments.

It’s important for employees who believe they are experiencing discrimination or retaliation to document their experiences and seek advice, potentially from an experienced employment lawyer or a government agency like the California Civil Rights Department (CRD). They can provide guidance and, if necessary, a legal pathway to address these issues.

Expert Legal Counsel for Working Parents of Disabled Kids

Parents of disabled children in California have legal protections designed to help them balance their work and caregiving responsibilities. Understanding these rights and how to assert them is essential. With the right knowledge and support, you can continue to work while caring for your children’s special needs.At Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP, we can help you if you’re struggling to exercise your rights under federal and state law. Our skilled attorneys are prepared to represent you at the negotiation table or in court if your employer has discriminated against you for having a disabled child. Learn more about how we can help by scheduling your consultation today.

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