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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.

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.

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) which we've written about here, 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.

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