Legal Rights for a Single Parent in the Workplace

By Beverly Bird
Working mother checking in on her child.

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It might seem to make sense that if you bring home the bacon and fry it, too -- along with everything else that parenting involves -- the law should cut you a few breaks with respect to your working life. But single parents aren’t a constitutionally protected class under federal law. The lone exception is if you work for the federal government -- as this is the only employer who is prohibited from discriminating against you because you are a single parent. However, a few other laws protect parents, regardless of whether they’re single, married or living with a partner.

Federal Discrimination Law

Even though single parents aren’t a specifically protected class, prospective employers can’t ask you about your marital status when you’re interviewing for a job. Nor can they ask if you have children or if you plan to have a child or more children, and then base a hiring decision on your answer. Federal anti-discrimination laws address gender, however. Although you can’t file a lawsuit against an employer who’s treating you unfairly because you’re a single parent, you may be able to do so based on other related circumstances. If your coworkers or supervisors make derogatory comments about your post-pregnancy figure, this would be sexual harassment, for example. But you cannot file a lawsuit just because your boss won’t let you leave early or come in late when your babysitter cancels at the last moment.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 protects pregnant women by stretching the protections against discrimination on the basis of sex to include pregnancy-related issues. This means you can’t be fired simply because you’re having a baby -- and your employer must accommodate your physical condition.

The Affordable Care Act

The federal Affordable Care Act expanded the provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires employers to provide break times for nursing employees. If you’re breastfeeding, your employer must accommodate your working conditions for up to a year after you give birth. He must provide a private place for you to express milk and he must allow you to do so as often as necessary.

The Family and Medical Leave Act

Having a child become seriously ill is one of a parent’s worst fears. Depending on who your employer is, the Family and Medical Leave Act may ensure that you have time off to care for your child. The Act applies to government employers -- even at the municipal level -- and to private companies that employ 50 or more workers during at least 20 weeks of the year. You must have held your job for at least a year and have totaled 1,250 or more working hours during that time. If you qualify, you’re entitled to 12 weeks’ unpaid leave each year to care for your sick child. If your employer provides you with a group health plan, he must continue coverage for you while you’re out. The FMLA also applies when you have your baby so you can take some time off after she arrives.

About the Author

Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.

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