If you’re pregnant or know someone who is pregnant, it is important to know your rights. The laws regarding pregnancy leave can seem complicated and the information can be hard to find. Not to mention your human resource department might not be too helpful because they want you at work.
This happened to my coworker. She found out too late that she could have stayed home with her baby longer. She told me about this when I became pregnant, so I made sure I did my research. So here is what you need to know about maternity leave in California.
How long is maternity leave in California?
If you meet the requirements, you are entitled to 22-24 weeks of maternity leave. That is 22-24 weeks of job protection. See the timeline below.
Do I meet the requirements to get pregnancy leave benefits?
First, you have to make sure you are eligible for SDI (State Disability Insurance), PDL (Pregnancy Disability Leave), CFRA (California Family Rights Act), and PFL (Paid Family Leave). SDI and PDL both cover your pregnancy disability period, while CFRA and PFL covers your baby bonding time.
State Disability Insurance (SDI)
Workers who have a loss of wages when they are unable to work due to pregnancy may be eligible for Disability Insurance (DI) benefits.
- Be unable to do your regular or customary work for at least eight days.
- Be employed or actively looking for work at the time your disability begins.
- Have lost wages because of your disability.
- Have earned at least $300 from which SDI deductions were withheld during your base period.
- Be under the care and treatment of a licensed physician/practitioner.
- Complete and submit your claim form (DE 2501) no earlier than nine days after your first day of disability begins but no later than 49 days after your disability begins or you may lose benefits.
- Have your physician/practitioner complete the medical certification portion of your disability claim.
More info: Am I Eligible for DI Benefits?
Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL)
The requirements for PDL are:
- Have a pregnancy disability, and
- Employer has 5+ employees.
Paid Family Leave (PFL)
Workers who have a loss of wages when they need to take time off work to bond with a new child entering the family through birth, adoption, or foster care placement, may be eligible for Paid Family Leave (PFL) benefits.
- Be unable to do your regular or customary work due to the need to bond with a new child.
- Be employed or actively looking for work at the time your family leave begins.
- Have lost wages because you were bonding with a new child.
- Have earned at least $300 from which State Disability Insurance (SDI) deductions were withheld during your base period.
- Complete and submit your claim form no earlier than the first day your family leave begins, but no later than 41 days after your family leave begins or you may lose benefits.
More info: Am I Eligible for Paid Family Leave?
California Family Rights Act (CFRA)
CFRA has more requirements:
- Have worked for employer for 1+ year.
- Have 1250 hours of service in the past year.
- Employer has 50+ employees that work within an 75 mile radius.
*If you aren’t eligible for CFRA or FMLA, read Not eligible for FMLA/CFRA: What to do? *
Let’s break this down and take a look at maternity leave in stages: before baby, after baby, and baby bonding.
Before Baby: Still Pregnant
You can start maternity leave 4 weeks before your estimated due date. The default start date is at 36 weeks, and this is a “use it or lose it” benefit. We say “use it or lose it” because if your baby comes out sooner than your due date, those four weeks get cut short. Also, there is a common misconception that if you put off the day you start your maternity leave, you could go back to work later, this is not true! Your “go back to work” day is based on the day you have your baby.
Like I mentioned above, 36 weeks is the default maternity leave start date. But if you have complications (e.g. have a high-risk pregnancy, preeclampsia, need bed rest, etc.) your doctor or provider can write you out earlier. Either way, the first day of your maternity leave will be day 1 of PDL and FMLA.
PDL and FMLA
PDL (state law) and FMLA (federal law) both offer job protection. Here in California, we will reference our PDL state law more because it is more generous and as a result of this, it overrides FMLA.
Our PDL state law offers 4 months of unpaid job protection. The FMLA federal law offers up to 12 weeks of unpaid job protection. The biggest difference between PDL and FMLA are the eligibility requirements:
- PDL: You are eligible if your employer has 5+ employees. There is no minimum requirement for the number of hours or years worked to be eligible.
- FMLA: You’re eligible if your employer has 50+ employees, and if you’ve worked for 1+ year, and if you’ve worked for 1250+ hours prior to
Both PDL and FMLA start on day 1 of your maternity leave.
State Disability Insurance (SDI)
If you’re wondering how you will get paid during this time, that is when SDI will kick in. SDI helps cover the entire duration you are “disabled” by pregnancy and childbirth. SDI now pays up to 60-70% of weekly wage replacement for 4 weeks pre-birth and 6-8 weeks post-birth.
There is a mandatory unpaid 7-day waiting period before you receive benefits. You should use your employer’s sick leave, PTO, or vacation hours to cover your salary during this waiting period. Remember to submit your claim form no earlier than nine days after your first day of disability begins but no later than 49 days after your disability begins. To file a claim:
- You need a Benefits Programs Online account
- You can file a claim online or through mail, read more on your Options to File for DI Benefits.
How To File a Disability Insurance Claim Online
Congrats! Your new bundle of joy has arrived. By now you should have already filed your SDI claim and your job is still being protected by PDL and FMLA. Your next 6-8 weeks (6 weeks for
Baby Bonding: CFRA and PFL
Now 6-8 weeks after giving birth (or longer if there were complications), you are no longer considered disabled, and it is time to bond! Now you have 12 additional weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) to bond with your baby. Out of those 12 weeks, you can get partial wage replacement (similar to SDI) for 6 weeks through Paid Family Leave (PFL).
With CFRA and PFL, you don’t have to use it altogether. You can spread out that baby bonding and take it in hourly, daily, or weekly increments. Just make sure you use your 12 weeks by the time your baby turns one. For example, I did intermittent baby bonding. I returned to my full-time job but only worked two to three days a week. Your return to work date is determined by when CFRA ends.
SDI to PFL
The process of applying for PFL is very similar to filing a claim for SDI. The only difference is that there is no longer a 7-day waiting period for PFL. This means that you should complete and submit your PFL claim form no earlier than the first day your family leave begins, but no later than 41 days after your family leave begins.
How To Transfer From Disability Insurance to Paid Family Leave
For more information on how to register or file claims, go to the SDI Online Tutorials page.
Men qualify for Paid Family Leave (PFL) as well. PFL covers “a mother, father, or an adoptive or foster parent who is earning less or no money because of time taken off from work to bond with a new child.” Similar to mothers, fathers can have up to 6 weeks of partial pay to bond with their new child. It can also be taken
Maternity Leave Resources
When I was pregnant, I learned most everything I needed to know from Akiko‘s amazing post California Maternity Leave: How To Milk It. I drew out my timeline and everything, it was very helpful.
If you’re pregnant I highly recommend joining the Facebook group California Maternity Leave Support. Those ladies are amazing and can answer any question you may have.
The California Work & Family Coalition is an alliance of community organizations unions, non-profits, and individuals dedicated to helping parents, caregivers, and families thrive. Check out their resources page.
PaidFamilyLeave.org is maintained by the California Work & Family Coalition and is another great resource for new parents and families. I recommend checking out their resources page as well.