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Parental Protections

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As a parent of children having disabilities and serious medical conditions, you may be at high risk for employment discrimination.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits most employers from firing a parent, or excluding a parent from a job opportunity or benefit, because the parent has a child with a disability. An employer may not treat an employee differently because his or her child has a disability.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, is a federal law governing certain employee benefit plans.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law which provides important job protections to parents who take time off from work to be with children receiving medical and psychiatric care or who are recuperating from serious health concerns.

New: FMLA extends to adult children with special needs. Additional DOL guidance for employees taking FMLA leave to care for a child with a disability who is 18 years of age or older. (January 2013)


2011 Tax Benefits for Taxpayers with Disabilities and Parents of Children with Disabilities

ADA Protections at Work. Brian East, and attorney with Advocacy, Inc., answers questions about what parents are protected by ADA "association" claims and what you can do if you think your ADA rights have been violated.

Protecting Employee Benefits for Parents of Ill Children and Children with Disabilities. ERISA contains an "anti-discrimination" provision that makes it unlawful for any person to be fired or otherwise discriminated against for exercising his or her rights under an ERISA-governed plan. Attorney Claire Kennedy-Wilkins explains that your employer cannot legally fire you because of the high cost of providing health insurance to your child who is ill or who has a disability.

Family and Medical Leave Act Protections for Parents. What parents are protected? Leave-for how long? What are the qualifying conditions? Who is eligible? Employment attorney Loring Spolter answers these questions and provides an FMLA Leave Checklist which can minimize difficulties and preserve legal rights when seeking FMLA leave.

ADA + FMLA = Job Protections for Parents. There are some employment protections for parents but they do not all fall under the ADA. However, using the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 and state laws, as well as the ADA, parents who work for covered employers can weave together some protections. Deborah Leuchovius, ADA Specialist for the PACER Center answers questions advocates have heard from parents who have experienced discrimination in the workplace.

The Health Information and Advocacy Center at the Pacer Center provides a central source for families of children and young adults with disabilities to obtain support, advocacy, and information about the health care system and other services that are mandated by law. Read more about ERISA Claims and Appeals Procedures.

Employee Benefits Study. With support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau, the Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy at the MassGeneral Hospital for Children conducted a study, begun in 2001 and completed in 2006, to examine employer-sponsored benefit systems and workplace supports to employees who have children with special needs. Children and youth with chronic health conditions and disabilities are uniquely vulnerable to limitations on adequate and appropriate health insurance and access to needed services. Their families can face financial hardship as a result of their health needs. Additionally, their parents may face threats to their own health and challenges to maintaining employment. Full text in PDF format.

Helpful Workplace Benefits for Families of Children with Special Needs.
Family-identified employer programs, policies, and services that support employees whose children have special needs.

Companies are Offering Assistance To Parents of Kids with Disabilities. "A code of silence has long kept parents of children with disabilities...from talking about their kids at work. ...a handful of employers are stepping up to help, with support groups, informational meetings and insurance benefits. (Read this article on Bridges4Kids from the Wall Street Journal Online,10/14/05.)

Employers Can Help Parents of Special Kids. This article is from work/life Today, a newsletter for work/life professionals.

Reports and Publications

New Report: Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children. Currently, the U.S. legal system is not protecting the rights of parents with disabilities and their children. Two-thirds of state child welfare laws allow courts to determine a parent is unfit solely on the basis of a parent’s disability. Report offers draft model state and federal statutory language to correct the discrimination faced by parents with disabilities in the United States. (National Council of Disability, September 2012)

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Additional Resources

National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA)

U.S. Office of Personnel Management. FMLA Entitlements.

U.S. Department of Labor

NCFPP - National Center for Family/Professional Partnerships for CYSHCN.

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Last updated: 01/29/13

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