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Parental Leave Retaliation in California

Written By: Mo Eldessouky Updated On: July 10, 2024 | Read Time: 6 Minutes

Visualize this: you’ve just welcomed a child into your family, a time for joy and bonding. However, upon requesting parental leave, you encounter resistance or experience negative consequences at work. This scenario, known as parental leave retaliation, is unfortunately more common than we would like to admit. It’s an unfavorable measure an employer takes against a staff member who has exercised their right to parental leave.

In California, an employee’s livelihood is secured under laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), which guarantee job-protected leave for qualifying family and medical reasons. Understanding these protections and recognizing signs of retaliation comes in handy when safeguarding your rights and taking appropriate action, if necessary. The following guide equips you with the knowledge to fight back if you’ve been targeted after taking parental leave in California.

What is Parental Leave Retaliation?

Parental leave retaliation occurs when an employer punishes a worker for taking or attempting to take parental leave. Under FMLA, qualified employees are granted the right to take unpaid leave either as a single block or intermittently throughout a designated 12-month period.  The CFRA enables similar protections to ensure staff can bond with a new child or care for a seriously ill family member without fear of job loss or retaliation.

Workplace retaliation can take many forms. These actions violate legal protections and undermine the fundamental purpose of parental leave: to allow parents to care for their families without jeopardizing their careers.

What are the Signs of Parental Leave Retaliation?

Parental leave retaliations can be subtle and others downright hostile; the most common include:

  • Unrealistic Work Expectations: You might be assigned unmanageable tasks, often unrelated to your previous responsibilities, once you return from leave. Failure to meet these unreasonable demands can lead to unjust termination.
  • Demotion or Reduced Salary: Being relegated or receiving a pay cut after taking leave is a clear sign of retaliation. This is an actual concern if your new role does not match your qualifications or previous status. For instance, you may find yourself demoted from a project manager role to an administrative assistant position with a significantly lower salary.
  • Wrongful Termination: Getting fired shortly upon returning from parental leave, particularly if no legitimate reason for the termination exists, strongly suggests retaliation. It’s often referred to as “temporal proximity,” where the timing of the unfavorable action closely follows the protected activity.
  • Exclusion from Important Meetings or Projects: If you find yourself systematically excluded from meetings or projects you were previously involved in, this can indicate retaliation. Such exclusion can limit your visibility in the company and hinder your career advancement.
  • Negative Performance Evaluations: Receiving poor job reviews based on reasons that correlate with your parental leave status can be another form of retaliation. These evaluations might be used to “justify” further adverse actions, like demotion or termination.
  • Discipline for Taking Approved Absence: Employers are legally required to respect their employees’ leave entitlements. Reprimanding or disciplining a worker for taking approved leave is a blatant example of retaliation. 
  • New, Strenuous Tasks: This could be retaliatory if you’re assigned physically demanding tasks or those that were not part of your job description before taking leave. Such responsibilities can make your work life unnecessarily difficult and stressful.
  • Denial of Resources: Being refused access to work resources or training that was previously available to you can hinder your job performance and professional development. This subtle form of retaliation can have long-term career implications.

In case you experience one or several of these actions, it may amount to parental leave retaliation. Seeking legal advice is highly advisable. A seasoned employment lawyer can help determine whether your rights under the FMLA or CFRA have been violated and guide you toward protecting said rights.

What are Examples of Parental Leave Retaliation?

Several policies and practices under the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) might constitute parental leave retaliation, violating federal and state laws:

Unequal Paid Parental Leave

Providing significantly different amounts of paid parental leave to birth mothers and birth fathers, such as 12 weeks for mothers and only two weeks for fathers, is discriminatory. Such disparities perpetuate gender stereotypes and violate equality principles under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law is in place to ensure both men and women receive equal treatment in the workplace, including parental leave policies.

Conditional Leave for Fathers

Requiring fathers to meet conditions not imposed on mothers before they can take paid parental leave is another form of discrimination. For instance, mandating that the mother must return to work or be incapable of caring for the child before the father can take leave is unfair and unlawful.

Retaliatory Actions Post-Leave

Retaliation can occur in various forms following an employee’s return from leave. It includes reductions in salary or bonuses, denial or delay of promotions, and assignment of less desirable work. Such actions not only punish the workers for taking leave but also deter others from exercising their rights.

Denying Return-to-Work Benefits

Fathers may face discrimination if they are not offered the same return-to-work benefits as mothers, such as part-time or flexible work schedules. These benefits are essential for balancing work and family responsibilities and should be available to all parents equally. Employers must adhere to both federal and state laws to ensure parental leave policies are implemented fairly and without bias. Any deviation from these legal requirements can be grounds for a retaliation claim.

Protections You’re Entitled to Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA provides certain securities to members of staff who need to take leave for family and medical reasons. They include some if not all the following protection:

  • 12 Weeks of Job-Protected Leave: Workers are entitled to take leave of absence within a 12-month period for specified family and medical reasons. It ensures that they can care of their families without fear of losing their jobs.
  • Intermittent Leave: Employees do not have to take the full 12 weeks of leave at once. They can use them in smaller blocks of time or work as needed, known as intermittent leave. This flexibility helps with managing ongoing family-related or medical needs.
  • Health Insurance Continuation: During FMLA leave, employers must continue the worker’s health insurance coverage under the same terms as if the employee had not taken leave. Note that staff may be required to continue making their normal contributions.
  • Protections against Retaliation: Employers are prohibited from striking back against personnel for exercising their rights under the FMLA. Any negative action averse to an employee for taking leave can be legally challenged.
  • Legal Recourse: If you believe you have been subjected to parental leave retaliation, you need to seek legal advice. An employment attorney can help determine if your rights have been violated and guide you on the steps to protect those rights, including filing a complaint with the appropriate government agency or pursuing a lawsuit.

What You Can Do

Parental leave is a legal right for all parents. California law protects your job while you bond with your child. It includes the flexibility to take leave in smaller blocks or work part-time while on leave. Even so, such “flexibility” can be where retaliation creeps in. Don’t suffer in silence if you find yourself in this unfair predicament. Here’s how to protect yourself:

Document Everything: Building a solid case hinges on proper record-keeping. You need detailed notes of any conversations with your manager or HR regarding your leave request or any negative treatment upon your return. Date these entries and include specifics like time of day and location. For example, if your manager verbally assigns you an overwhelming workload upon return, mention the specific tasks and their deviation from your pre-leave duties. This documented timeline will be crucial evidence for your attorney.

Onboard an Employment Attorney: They can assess your situation and determine if your rights have been violated. A lawyer can also guide you through legal options to pursue redress. This may include filing a complaint with the EEOC or filing a lawsuit against your employer to be reinstated or recover lost wages.

Eldessouky Law: Protecting Your Workplace Rights

Parental leave retaliation is a serious matter that undermines the protections provided by laws from entities like the FMLA and CFRA. Recognizing the signs of retaliation and knowing your rights are steps you can take to defend your career and family life. If you suspect that you have been a victim of retaliation, the first action you can take is to consult a lawyer for legal advice. By doing so, you can hold your employer accountable and ensure your rights are protected. Are you ready to discuss your case and need legal representation in Southern California? Don’t settle for just any lawyer.Founder Mohamed Eldessouky is the only employment law attorney in the past decade to be recognized with the prestigious OCTLA Top Gun Award. It honors exceptional trial skills, unwavering client dedication, and a commitment to ethical legal practices. Eldessouky Law combines legal expertise with a genuine desire to help. Our tenacious trial lawyers prioritize your needs and fight relentlessly to secure the maximum compensation you deserve. We’ve achieved countless victories for Californian workers and obtained substantial settlements in the form of lost wages, emotional distress, and legal fees. Allow Eldessouky Law to protect your rights. Contact Us today at 714-409-8991 for a free, confidential case evaluation and advice on the best way forward.

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