Understanding Your Right to Maternity Leave in California

Preparing to have a baby is hard enough without the challenge of navigating the developed world’s worst maternity leave policies. Fortunately, in California, expecting and new mothers are entitled to more maternity leave than in the rest of the country. Some of it is even paid! While this is a low bar, you may be surprised to learn that women in most states have no right to income during maternity leave.

Activists have won rights for pregnant workers on a piecemeal basis. It’s great we have these rights, but this incremental approach means that your rights come from a patchwork of laws that can feel as intimidating as having a new baby. Keep in mind that it is your employer’s obligation to inform you of your rights, so be as insistent and assertive with them as you need to get the leave you’re entitled to. Here’s a summary of California’s leave laws and key FAQs.

California’s Numerous Laws Granting Maternity Leave Rights

California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Law

Under the PDLL, you have the right to up to four months of “job-protected” leave. (“Job-protected” leave means you must be restored to your position or, in limited circumstances, to a comparable position.) PDL is partially paid through the state’s disability leave program, up to a weekly cap.

You can use this leave “intermittently,” which means “not all at once.” If, for example, you must check into a hospital for a night early on in your pregnancy because you are bleeding, and are put on a short bedrest, you can use PDL for this time off—and your employer must let you. Similarly, you may use PDL to take an “early” maternity leave if medical complications require it. You can also use PDL to attend doctor’s appointments if your employer will not let you take time off to attend appointments.

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA)/Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) applies to all employees who have worked 1,250 hours within the prior 12-month period. Like the PDL, CFRA now applies to all employers with more than five employees, as of January 1, 2021—a huge and recent win for working women at smaller employers in California.

Leave under CFRA is unpaid. It “stacks” with leave under the PDLL, meaning you may be entitled to up to four months (under the PDLL) plus 12 weeks (under CFRA). This means that workers at most employers (over five people) can take up to approximately seven months of job-protected leave—four months of PDL and three months of CFRA leave.

Paid Sick Leave Laws

Under California law, most employers must provide at least three days of paid sick leave per year. Employees earn at last 1 hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Employers are required to allow employees to use paid sick leave after 90 days of employment.

Many cities in California have local paid sick leave laws that require employers to provide additional days of paid sick leave, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and many more.

Why is this important to you as a pregnant worker? It allows you to take paid leave for short-term, pregnancy-related medical needs without applying for payment through the EDD (which is how you are paid under the PDL). Using paid sick leave should be simple and painless if you have it available.

Additional Leave as a Reasonable Accommodation

Just say you take all your PDL and CFRA leave and you are still struggling with complications from delivery or childbirth. If this happens to you, you have the right to reasonable accommodations relating to your pregnancy-related disabilities, including but not limited to additional unpaid leave.

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Will I Be Paid During Maternity Leave?

If you live in California, the answer is almost certainly yes. All private sector employers and almost all public sector employers are required to take state disability insurance (SDI) deductions from your paycheck to pay into the state disability leave program. There are two separate state disability leave programs that provide you payment during maternity leave: the Pregnancy Disability Leave program and the Paid Family Leave program.

The PDL program pays you 60% of your income up to a weekly cap while you are “disabled” by pregnancy and related medical conditions. For most women without complications, this is 4 weeks before the estimated due date and 6 or 8 weeks after delivery for vaginal delivery and C-sections, respectively. If you need more time off for medical reasons, you can receive disability payments for this time as well.

During your CFRA leave, you can be paid the same 60% of your weekly income for 8 weeks through the Paid Family Leave program. The last four weeks of CFRA leave may be unpaid.

FAQs Regarding Maternity Leave in California

  • Can my employer require me to submit a doctor’s note before returning from maternity leave? Yes, if they require other employees to submit doctor’s notes before returning to work from temporary disability leave. If they single out pregnancy and treat you differently, they cannot require doctor’s notes.
  • Can new dads and adoptive parents take parental leave? Yes, if they have worked 1 year and 1,250 hours for an employer with at least five employees. Learn more about paternity and adoptive parent leave.
  • Can I use pregnancy disability leave for infertility treatments? No, but you may be able to use non-pregnancy-related short term disability and receive payments through the EDD. You also can take job-protected leave under CFRA if you are eligible or request leave as a reasonable accommodation. Learn more about your rights if you are struggling with infertility.
  • Can I use pregnancy disability leave for a miscarriage or pregnancy loss? Yes. Have your doctor write a note putting you off work while your body and mind recover from your loss. Learn more here.
  • Can I use pregnancy disability leave or other leave for post-partum depression or anxiety? Yes. PPD and PPA are pregnancy-related disabilities and you may use the balance of any pregnancy disability leave. You may also take leave under CFRA/FMLA or request additional leave as a reasonable accommodation. Learn more here.
  • If I have SDI deductions on my paycheck but I don’t live in California, can I still be paid for PDL or PFL? Yes. According to the EDD, all that matters is that you paid into state disability insurance during the past 18 months. It does not matter if you currently live in California.
  • Is it illegal if my employer forces me to go on leave? Yes, if you are still able to work. This is an example of failure to accommodate and pregnancy discrimination. Learn more here.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Deal With My Maternity Leave?

If you just need help with understanding your leave rights, you probably do not need a lawyer or a legal consultation. The first step is to approach your employer and explain the law. Leave laws are complicated, and many employers are simply mistaken about them. When you present them with the facts, many women find that their employers are accommodating.

Here are some government-provided resources to help you educate your employer:

You should also check out the Firm’s extensive collection of resources regarding pregnancy and work:

Experienced, Compassionate Pregnancy Discrimination Attorneys

We are one of the few firms in California with a special focus on pregnancy discrimination and the rights of new parents in the workplace. Many of our attorneys are parents and have experienced this bias firsthand. If you believe you have experienced discrimination, our experienced attorneys are here to help.

We provide free, confidential consultations to California workers. You should contact us as soon as possible to make sure your claim is still within the time limits set by law. Contact us today through our website or give us a call at (213) 214-3757 to schedule a free consultation.

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