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Expanded legal protections and leave for adoptive parents in California

State and federal laws may provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new adoptive parents to bond with their child, as well as financial assistance.

Parent-child bonding is critical for a child’s healthy development. Attachment Parenting International explains that research has proven the primary caregiver needs time with a child through daily caring interactions to develop this bond. Many employers recognize this importance and offer paid maternity and paternity leave. However, adoptive parents may not always receive the same considerations, even though their need for bonding is just as critical to their child’s current and future well-being.

If an employer-sponsored plan is not available for adoptive parents, there are state and federal laws that address leave and even offer compensation, and recent expansions of state law now cover most adoptive parents.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993

FMLA protects employees’ jobs so they can take as many as 12 weeks of unpaid leave during each 12-month period to care for their families, including adoptive and foster children. The adoptive parent must have already worked for that employer for 12 months, at minimum, including 1,250 hours in the 12 months leading up to the leave.

The law covers employees working for a private-sector employer that employs at least 50 employees during at least 20 workweeks of the calendar year. It also covers employees of any public agency and any elementary or secondary school, public or private. The employer must have at least 50 employees working within 75 miles of the location where the adoptive parent works.

The expanded California Family Rights Act

According to the California Chamber of Commerce, the CFRA had already expanded on many of the benefits offered through FMLA, extending benefits to many more employees in the state. In 2021, the benefits improved again. Now, adoptive parents working for an employer with at least five employees may qualify. There is no limit based on the location of the worksite relative to other worksites.

The CFRA and FMLA diverge significantly enough that an employee may be able to take unpaid leave under both. However, if adoptive parents take 12 weeks to bond with a child, they cannot take another 12 weeks for the same reason. If they were to need 12 weeks to care for another family member, that would likely be available to them through FMLA.

California Paid Family Leave

Most adoptive parents are probably not financially set up to take 12 weeks off work without pay, even if they do not take the weeks consecutively. Paid Family Leave does not completely replace wages, but it does usually pay 60% to 70% of a person’s weekly wage, up to a set limit. Employers have the option to allow workers to use paid time off to supplement the benefits so that they are receiving their full pay. PFL does not offer job protection as CFRA and FMLA do, but an adoptive parent who qualifies for PFL is likely to qualify for job protection through one of these other laws.

Adoptive parents who work for an employer that denies them the protections that state and federal law provide may want to speak to an attorney about how to secure their rights in the workplace.