Guide to California Paid Maternity Leave Laws

Mary Gormandy White
Office worker planning her maternity leave dates

If you're a California resident who's about to become a parent, it's a good idea to get informed about the laws regarding maternity leave in the state. The family leave laws in this state are some of the best in the nation. Knowing your rights and responsibilities will help make your leave, and your baby's first weeks at home, go smoothly.

California Paid Family Leave

With the addition of a Paid Family Leave (PFL) law that went into effect in 2004 as an extension of the State Disability Insurance (SDI) program, California is considered a leader in working moms' rights. If you're about to be a mom in this state, you are in luck.

Qualifying for PFL

In order to qualify for PFL, you'll need to meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • You must reside in California.
  • You must have contributed to State Disability Insurance (SDI), an automatic deduction from most people's pay checks.
  • You must be taking time off to bond with a newborn, a foster child, or an adopted child, or to care for an ill family member. You will need a doctor's note to support your claim.
  • For child bonding, the leave must be taken within one year of birth, adoption or foster care placement.

Explanation of Benefits

If you qualify for PFL, you can receive up to six weeks' worth of wages at a reduced level. You are eligible for about 55% of your average weekly income during this period. To compute your payment, the state examines pay during a twelve month base period and uses the highest quarterly earnings to determine benefits. Wages the person was paid for the previous five to 18 months are included in the base period, presuming they were subject to SDI withholding.

Eligible individuals with at least $300 worth of earnings during the base period qualify for benefits. As of 2013, the minimum weekly benefit is $50 and the maximum is $1,067. Individuals with quarterly earnings during the base period ranging between $75 and $1,374.99 will receive the minimum benefit of $50 per week, while those with quarterly earnings of $25,196.37 or more will receive the maximum weekly benefit of $1,067.

See the Weekly Benefit Amounts Chart provided by the State of California's Employment Development Department for details on benefit calculations at all wage levels.

There are a few other important things to consider regarding the PFL benefit:

  • There is a week-long waiting period before your benefits will begin.
  • Your employer may have you use up to two weeks of your vacation time or sick days before you begin receiving your PFL benefits.
  • You can take your PFL benefit in bits and pieces. You don't need to take six consecutive weeks off work.
  • Both parents may take PFL at the same time, or they may stagger their leaves.

How to Claim PFL

Your employer does not pay PFL benefits. Instead, the State of California handles these payments and approves your application. To apply for PFL, visit the State of California Employment Development Department website or call 1-877-238-4373.

Pregnancy-Related Disability

Women who experience disability related to pregnancy or childbirth may also qualify for disability benefits under the SDI program.

Qualifying for Disability Leave

In order to qualify for disability payments related to pregnancy or childbirth, you'll need to meet these criteria:

  • You must be a California resident.
  • You must have earned income and have contributed to SDI.
  • For at least eight consecutive days, you must be unable to perform the basic functions of your job due to your disability.
  • You must be under a doctor's care during the first eight days of your disability.
  • You must not be receiving PFL at the same time as a disability leave benefit; however, you can begin receiving PFL after you are no longer eligible for disability leave.

Explanation of Benefits

Benefit payments are calculated in the same manner as PFL benefits, though there is not a six-week limit. SDI benefits may be paid for up to a year, based on medically-certified necessity and base period wages.

How to Claim

To file a disability insurance claim related to pregnancy in the State of California, visit the State of California Employment Development Department website. You can also call 1-800-480-3287 to speak to someone who can help you navigate this process.

California Family Rights Act

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) can be used to take additional time off for bonding with a new child, and it also provides for additional leave specific to pregnancy disability. If a woman meets the eligibility requirements for CFRA, she can take up to 12 weeks of leave for bonding with her new child, as well as an additional four months of job protected leave associated with pregnancy disability. This means that those who qualify can take the four months of pregnancy leave along with up to twelve weeks of CFRA for bonding with the baby after birth.

Qualifying Under the CFRA

In order to qualify for CFRA, you'll need to meet these criteria:

  • You must have worked for your employer for at least a year. Full or part-time employment are both eligible.
  • Your company must employ at least 50 employees within a 75 mile radius.
  • The parent must have logged at least 1,250 hours in the last year.
  • You must be a California resident.
  • Both parents, as well as same sex domestic partners, can qualify for this leave.

Bonding Leave

CFRA covers 12 weeks of bonding time for the parent and child. This applies to individuals who have a baby, as well as those who adopt or foster a child. Leave must be taken within one year of the birth, adoption or beginning of foster care.

Pregnancy Disability

Separate from bonding time, CFRA requires covered California employers to allow pregnant women up to four months of pregnancy disability leave, if needed, in addition to bonding time.

Under CFRA, pregnancy disability may include:

Note: These circumstances may not result in eligibility for SDI benefits; there is a difference in CFRA job protection leave and eligibility for disability insurance payments.

Explanation of Benefits

The CFRA does not provide any income replacement during your leave. Instead, it simply guarantees that your job will still be there when you return to work.

Requesting Leave

It's important that you give your employer as much notice as possible, preferably in writing, before you plan to take your leave. Check with your company's HR department to find out exactly what is expected of you.

Learn More

For more information about the CFRA and your rights under the law, download this publication from the California Department of General Services.

Federal Family and Medical Leave Act

Federal laws also protect California women who take a maternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which was passed in 1993, guarantees that women can take up to twelve weeks without pay while keeping the same health insurance. Additionally, their position will be held while gone, or else a job with equal pay, benefits, and status will be given.

CFRA and FMLA are similar, though the California law does provide protections beyond what are included in the federal law (such as pregnancy disability protection). In most cases, the CFRA benefits from the State of California supersede the FMLA. To learn more about FMLA, visit the United State Department of Labor website.

Other Maternity Leave Options

California maternity leave options do not always end at the state and federally mandated laws. The companies parents work for may have their own policies regarding family leave that are better than government-mandated options.

To find out more about your company's policies regarding maternity leave, visit with your human resources personnel at least 30 days prior to taking any leave. You may want to visit with them at the beginning of your pregnancy as well, to find out how to handle any emergency situations that may arise, and to plan for your future leave.

Focus on What Matters Most

Maintain an open dialog with your employer and your human resources department, since good communication can go a long way toward smoothing out any difficulties. Properly researching your maternity leave options and thoroughly understanding your rights can help you focus on what matters most: your health and your baby.

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Guide to California Paid Maternity Leave Laws