Legal Rights for a Single Parent in the Workplace

Updated November 22, 2016

Single parents often face challenges in the workplace. They may not be able to work standard hours because of childcare demands and may have to take time off if a child is ill or seriously injured. Although it is not illegal as of 2011 to discriminate against single parents in most states, single parents retain a number of workplace rights.

Pregnancy reports that pregnant women have a number of workplace rights. It is illegal to refuse to hire a woman because she is pregnant or may become pregnant, and a woman cannot be fired because of her pregnancy. Pregnancy must be treated like a temporary disability; employers must give pregnant women leave once they are unable to work due to their pregnancy. However, employers cannot force a pregnant woman to take leave if she feels she is still able to work. These rights apply to single mothers as well as married ones.

No Anti-Discrimination Laws

There are no federal laws prohibiting discrimination based on family status, according to Workplace Fairness. Thus, it is legal for an employer to discriminate in hiring or promoting single parents. However, employers may not discriminate based on sex. Therefore, if an employer schedules a single mother for longer hours than the men in her department, he could be sued for sex discrimination. As of 2011, Alaska and the District of Columbia have laws against discrimination based on family status.

Religious Organizations

Workplace Fairness reports that some courts have ruled that religious organisations may engage in practices such as firing single parents because of religious prohibitions against sex outside of marriage. However, these organisations must hold both men and women to the same standards -- i.e., both sexes must be fired for similar offences. If the organisation treats men and women differently, it may be liable for a sex discrimination lawsuit.

Workers' Schedules

An employer may schedule another employee to work overtime to compensate for hours that a single parent cannot work due to childcare commitments or require another employee to cover the single parent's job while he picks up children from school or attends to other childcare issues. Workplace Fairness reports that these types of scheduling discrepancies are not considered discriminatory in most cases. Furthermore, employers are free to promote the worker who covers a single parent's shift during absences before the single parent.

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About the Author

Jack Ori has been a writer since 2009. He has worked with clients in the legal, financial and nonprofit industries, as well as contributed self-help articles to various publications.