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Maternity Leave and Pregnancy for California Employees

Maternity leave in California is more generous than for most women employed in the United States. If you're a pregnant California employee and interested in what your maternity and parental leave rights are, you're in luck. You live in one of the three states in the United States that guarantees women a partially paid maternity leave. You may also qualify for partially paid leave under the state's short-term disability laws and short-term disability insurance, which cover a portion of your pay while you are unable to work due to pregnancy or childbirth and which all ends up adding up to pay for maternity leave. Additionally, California's 2018 Parental Leave Act assures that CA employees are compensated fairly during their paid leave. 

Disclaimer: We tried very hard to summarize what the high level points we think you should know if you're a pregnant, working woman in California. However we're not attorneys so please be sure to check California's Employment Development Department (EDD) website for complete and updated information.

Overview of State Disability Insurance (SDI) and Paid Family Leave (PFL) Programs

Most California employers are required to participate in the state's disability insurance (SDI) program. SDI covers employees with any health condition or medical condition which renders them temporarily unable to work; this includes the inability to work due to pregnancy and childbirth, but possibly also related and less common medical conditions such as severe morning sickness, pregnancy-induced hypertension that requires you to take a leave of absence, healthcare provider-prescribed bed-rest for high-risk pregnancies or even severe post-partum depression. The usual period of disability recognized by the SDI program for pregnancy begins four weeks before birth, and extends to six weeks after birth. If you have medical complications certified by a physician, you can request more time.

Paid Family Leave (PFL) is a separate program that provides partial pay of your wages for up to 6 weeks while you bond and take care of a new child. You may receive benefit payments under both SDI and PFL and these benefits may run consecutively (not concurrently). Any employees covered by SDI are also covered by Paid Family Leave (PFL).

How is SDI and PFL Possible?

Both SDI and PFL benefits are fully employee-funded, which means that you have been paying into the disability insurance program through withheld amounts in your paycheck and will continue to do so after you return to work.

How Much Does SDI and PFL Pay?

SDI and FPL both pay you approximately 55% of your wages during your highest-paid calendar quarter in the prior year (up to a maximum of $1,173 per week as of 2017). The schedule of maximum payments is updated periodically, so you should check with the EDD for the latest information.

For those receiving below the maximum weekly benefit, you will typically receive more than 55% of the amount you see on your paycheck because FPL benefits are not subject to state taxes, unlike your take-home pay. You will generally receive benefits every two weeks.

SDI and PFL Eligibility and Other Details

We aren't going to reproduce the great information and full details on the EDD website here, as well as this super helpful visual on California's DFEH website, but we've highlighted a few key facts:

You typically qualify for SDI if you've earned $300 in wages in the prior year from which SDI payments were withheld. This means you can be a relatively new employee and still qualify for benefits. It also means there is no requirement that you are a full-time employee at a company with a leave policy or leave program in place. Other eligibility requirements include:

- The fact that you're unable to do your work for at least 8 consecutive days

- Be under the care of a medical practitioner during the first 8 days of your disability

- You are employed (and lost wages) or actively looking for work at the time your disability begins

If you receive any other benefits (e.g. unemployment insurance or worker's compensation benefits), you will typically be unable to also receive SDI and PFL benefits. If you receive earnings (e.g. from freelance work) those amounts will be subtracted from your SDI and PFL payments.

PFL does not need to be taken immediately after the birth of your child, so you can choose to take it later. However, it must be taken during the first year of your baby's life. You don't even need to take all 6 weeks at one time, though it must all be used within 1 year. If your company offers paid maternity leave, you can take that maternity leave and then also take PFL.

Employers may (but are not mandated to) require employees to use up 1-2 weeks of either sick leave or paid time off (such as your vacation) before you start to receive benefits.

There is a waiting period (7 calendar days) before you can start to receive both SDI and PFL benefits but if you want to receive PFL benefits immediately after your SDI benefits end, you aren't subject to an additional 7 day waiting period.

When can I take my leave?

PFL cannot be taken during your pregnancy. If you are having complications that impede your ability to work, you can use paid disability leave benefits, or PDL, in most cases. Generally, PDL can be used four weeks before your due date and last up to six weeks postpartum. However, if you’re experiencing health-issues as the result of being pregnant, you may be able to access PDL earlier. PFL is a different program, and can be accessed after you give birth. 

Does my leave have to be taken all at once?

No. Both PDL and PFL can be used intermittently. PDL can be used in hours, days, weeks or months. PFL can be broken up, but it may be required that it is taken in periods of two weeks.

Do I get leave if I foster, adopt or use a surrogate? 

Adoption, fostering or using a surrogate are all covered by California law. 

Can I combine FMLA or short-term disability benefits with California’s PFL? 

If you are eligible for FMLA, you must take FMLA and PFL leave concurrently. 

Is PFL pay taxed? 

PFL benefits are not taxed by the state of California, but are reportable to the IRS. 

When am I paid? How am I paid? 

Nine days after giving birth, you can file a claim for PFL on the state’s website. Benefits are generally issued two weeks after filing. 

Are there annual or lifetime caps on this leave?

You can only receive $1,173 for six weeks under PFL each year. 52 weeks after you started your leave, you are eligible for another leave. There is no lifetime cap on PFL. 

Do I still receive my employer’s benefits while I’m on leave?

Yes. You are entitled to receive health insurance benefits and accrue seniority while you are on leave. However, you will not receive unemployment insurance of workers’ compensation benefits.

Do fathers get maternity leave in California?

In California, fathers are eligible for paternity leave in accordance with Paid Family Leave (PFL) rules and regulation. Fathers can take this time if they:

  • Have had a child in the last 12 months either through pregnancy, adoption, or foster care.
  • Have, in the last 5-8 months, paid into the State Disability Insurance.
  • Have not already taken the full six weeks of PFL in the last year.

How early can you go on maternity leave in California?

Expecting mothers can go on maternity leave up to 4 weeks before their expected due date by using Disability Insurance (DI) benefits.

Is baby bonding time paid for in California?

Yes, in accordance with PFL, mothers and fathers are guaranteed at least six weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child — whether you’re a father whose partner just gave birth, or a parent that is welcoming a child through adoption or foster care.

What is California's Pregnancy Disability Leave Law?

In general, the law prohibits discrimination against pregnant employees. California's Pregnancy Disability Leave law also requires employers to allow employees to take up to 4 months off for any disability related to pregnancy and childbirth.

This leave is unpaid and is not "maternity leave" or pregnancy leave in the sense that its intended to provide for medical disability. This law protects you regardless of whether you're eligible for, or collecting SDI or PFL benefits. 

What is California's Family Rights Act?

In addition to the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), California law under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) requires certain employers to provide 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave for eligible employees. Moreover, certain rules and laws are in place in California prohibit pregnancy discrimination. And as of April 2016, under the California Fair Employment and Housing Council (“FEHC”) laws, there are new employee anti-harassment and anti-discrimination rules and regulations.

In general, the difference between FMLA and California's Family Rights Act is that the 12 weeks under California's law only covers post-partum time, whereas the clock on FMLA time may start ticking during pregnancy if a woman is unable to work during that time.

What is California’s Parental Leave Act (PLA)?

Thanks to 2018’s PLA, individuals who earn less than one-third of the state’s average quarterly wage ($5,229.98 in 2018) will be paid 70 percent of their weekly wages for up to six weeks. 

If you are in a higher income bracket, take note that the maximum reimbursement amount is $1,173 per week. Therefore, you may be compensated at under 55 percent of your weekly wage. 

According to California's PLA, your job is protected while you’re on maternity leave if you: 

  1. Have worked for your employer for at least the past 12 months

  2. Have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months

  3. Work for an employer who has at least 20 employees in a 75-mile radius or an employer who has at least 50 employees anywhere. 

How to request maternity leave.

While your notice of maternity leave may come in the form of a request out of courtesy, an employer cannot deny you maternity leave if you are legally entitled to take it and have provided reasonable notice.

You can make your request verbally, but it is best to put your request in timestamped writing (in the form of an email or electronic note) using clear language that specifies the reason for leave. 

Your request should include the following information: 

  • The time you are planning to take leave. 
  • The expected duration of your leave. 
  • Facts that make your employer aware that you require family leave or pregnancy disability leave. 

It is also wise to provide relevant information about your situation that can help your employer transition you in and out of leave. This could include your due date, and what duties you are expecting to have covered for you during leave.

Handling Violations of Maternity Leave Rights in California.

If your employer has violated your maternity leave rights, you may be entitled to compensatory damages, punitive damages or reinstatement to your former job. To seek these resolutions, you have three options: 

  1. You can attempt to resolve the dispute informally and internally with your employer. 

  2. You can bring an administrative claim to seek damages

  3. You can file a lawsuit in court. 

Before you can sue your employer for violating California’s maternity leave laws, you must file written complaint to California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Maternity leave violations in California have a strict statute of limitations, or filing deadline. If you are bringing your claim under state law, you must file a complaint against your employer with DFEH no later than one year from the date of the alleged violation.

If the claim is not resolved informally after you file a complaint with DFEH, you will be issued a right-to-sue letter. You then have one year to file a lawsuit in civil court against the employer.

While a lawyer is not required in California to file a claim against your employer, speaking to an employment lawyer at the beginning of this process can be helpful. Many attorneys are willing to work with no upfront cost to the employee with the promise that they will take a percentage of earnings from a successful case. In some cases, employers are required to pay all legal fees at the end of the case. 

Employers cannot wrongfully terminate or take adverse actions against employees for filing a complaint, testifying, or assisting in any proceeding in a pregnancy discrimination claim against their employer. 

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