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Accommodating Family Status: An Employee’s Guide to California’s Laws

In the bustling landscape of California’s workplaces, employees often find themselves juggling various responsibilities. From the demands of their jobs to the needs of their families, it’s crucial to strike a balance. 

However, what happens when your family status becomes a source of discrimination in the workplace? Let’s explore California’s marital status laws, examine family status discrimination, understand the protections for parenthood, and learn how to seek help if you encounter it in the workplace.

What Is Family Status Discrimination?

California family status laws aim to protect employees from discrimination based on their marital status. Marital status discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee unfairly due to their marital status, parental role, or other familial responsibilities. This type of discrimination can manifest in various ways, such as:

  • Refusing to hire or promote someone because they are a parent.
  • Subjecting employees to different terms and conditions based on their marital status.
  • Making derogatory comments or jokes about an employee’s family responsibilities.
  • Failing to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee’s family-related needs.

Is Parenthood a Protected Class in California?

No, parenthood is not a protected class in California. While the state recognizes that being a parent is a fundamental aspect of many people’s lives, being a parent is not a protected class the way marital status is. As such, it is not illegal for employers to discriminate against employees or job applicants based on their role as parents alone.

Certain local jurisdictions have regulations protecting people who are responsible for caring for another person. These are known as family responsibilities discrimination laws or caregiver protection laws. For example, in San Francisco, employers may not prohibit against people due to their role as caregivers. Still, this does not apply to parents specifically, as the law defines a caregiver as someone responsible for caring for an adult family member with a serious medical condition. 

Despite this, there are laws prohibiting certain actions against current or prospective parents, including: 

  • California Pregnancy Discrimination Act (CPDA): In California, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees under the CPDA. This means that if you are pregnant, your employer must make reasonable adjustments to your job duties or provide you with leave if necessary.
  • Lactation Accommodations: Every employer must offer nursing workers a “reasonable amount of break time” and a safe, healthy, and private location to express milk for their infant children. 
  • California Family Rights Act (CFRA): The CFRA is a stronger version of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), giving parents the right to protected unpaid leave if they need to care for their children’s serious medical condition. 
  • New Parent Leave Act (NPLA): This law ensures that eligible employees can take time off work to bond with a new child, whether through birth, adoption, or foster care placement.
  • Reproductive Loss Leave: This law guarantees workers the right to limited protected time off to recover from a reproductive loss such as a miscarriage or failed adoption.
  • Leave to Participate in School Activities: Eligible employees may receive up to 40 hours a year to respond to emergencies at their children’s school or daycare or to find and enroll their children in new institutions. 

While parenthood itself isn’t protected, these laws provide working parents with a variety of protections in the workplace. 

When Gender, Marital Status Discrimination, and Parenthood Intersect

While parenthood isn’t a protected category, marital status and gender are. Many instances of potential discrimination against parents are barred by gender or marital status protections. For example, an employer cannot discriminate against a female employee because she is pregnant (gender discrimination), and they cannot treat her unfavorably because she is a married or unmarried parent (marital status discrimination). This ensures that working mothers receive equal opportunities and protections in the workplace.

Getting Help for Family Status Discrimination in California

If you believe you have experienced marital status discrimination in California, you have several options for seeking help:

  1. Document Everything: Start by documenting any incidents of unfair treatment related to your family status. This includes noting dates, times, locations, individuals involved, and any witnesses. Keep copies of relevant emails, memos, or other written communications.
  2. Speak with your employer: Consider discussing the issue with your immediate supervisor or the Human Resources (HR) department within your company. They may not be aware of the situation and might be willing to address it through internal channels. Be clear about your concerns and provide any supporting documentation. In some cases, addressing the issue directly with your employer may lead to a resolution.
  3. File a complaint: If discussing the issue with your supervisor or HR does not lead to a resolution, you may need to file a formal complaint within your organization. Follow your company’s established procedures for reporting discrimination. Ensure you keep copies of all correspondence related to your complaint.
  4. Consult an attorney: If your employer does not take appropriate action to address the problem, or if you believe your case is not adequately resolved, consider consulting with an attorney who specializes in employment discrimination cases. They can provide legal advice, assess the strength of your case, and guide you on the best course of action.

Professional Representation for Family Status Discrimination 

In California, family status discrimination is illegal, and employees have rights to protect themselves from unfair treatment based on their family responsibilities. Understanding these rights and the laws that safeguard them is crucial for maintaining a healthy work-life balance and a discrimination-free workplace. If you encounter marital status discrimination, remember that help is available, and you have legal protections under California employment laws. At Le Clerc & Le Clerc, LLP, we specialize in helping parents pursue justice for the discrimination they face in the workplace. We encourage you to get in touch if you think you’re facing parental discrimination by your employer. We can help you determine if you have a case and pursue compensation for the harm you’ve suffered.

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