Understanding Your Right to Maternity Leave in California
| Read Time: 7 minutes | Pregnancy Discrimination

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 may take 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 maternity leave rights in California 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 your employer must 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.

What Are Maternity Leave Rights in California?

California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDLL)

Under the PDLL, you have the right to up to four months of “job-protected” leave. (“Job-protected” leave meansyour employer must restore you to your position or, in limited circumstances, to a comparable position.) Pregnancy disability leave (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 in your pregnancy because you are bleeding, and 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. For example, taking maternity leave 4 weeks before your due date if you have a condition like preeclampsia is allowed, but the time will be deducted from your four-month allotment. 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 least one 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 Employment Development Department (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

Say you take all your PDL and CFRA leave, and 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 California Pregnancy Leave?

If you live in California, the answer is almost certainly yes. The state requires all private sector employers and almost all public sector employers to take state disability insurance (SDI) deductions from your paycheck to pay into the state disability leave program. Two separate state disability leave programs provide 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 four weeks before the estimated due date and six or eight 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

  • How Long is Maternity Leave in California? Under the California Paid Family Leave (CPFL) program, eligible employees can receive up to 12 weeks of partial pay during their maternity leave period. Pay is generally a percentage of the employee’s wages and is subject to the state’s maximum weekly benefit amount.
  •  How Can I Get Six Months of Maternity Leave in California? Under the CFRA, eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave within 12 months. California also offers paid family leave (PFL), which provides partial wage replacement for employees who take time off to bond with a new child (including birth, adoption, or foster care). PFL provides up to eight weeks of benefits within 12 months. Pregnant employees in California may also be eligible for up to four months of PDL if they are disabled due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Depending on the circumstances and medical condition, employees may be eligible to take PDL and CFRA leaves, which can last up to six months. It’s important to remember that you may not take these leaves consecutively and that they have eligibility requirements and limitations.
  •  What Is Reasonable Accommodation Leave in California? A reasonable accommodation leave is leave provided to employees with disabilities to enable them to perform their job duties effectively. It involves accommodating an employee’s disability by providing them with time off or modifying their work schedule, duties, or environment. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are intended to ensure that employees with disabilities have equal opportunities and can perform their job duties to the best of their abilities. Pregnancy is considered a protected characteristic under the FEHA. Pregnant employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations if they have pregnancy-related disabilities, including medical conditions resulting from pregnancy, childbirth, or related issues. Some examples include gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, or complications requiring bed rest.
  • 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?

In most cases, you won’t need a lawyer or a legal consultation if you only need assistance understanding your leave rights. 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:

However, consulting with a skilled pregnancy discrimination lawyer is always a good idea if you have questions or concerns you can’t find answers to through your research or feel like your employer violated your rights.

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.

Because we have extensive experience with pregnancy and maternity leave cases, we have in-depth knowledge of the relevant laws, regulations, and case precedents. This makes us well-equipped to provide compassionate and informed legal advice tailored to your situation. We offer:

  • Negotiation and advocacy—we can negotiate with employers, HR departments, or legal representatives for you, negotiate reasonable accommodations, and work toward a fair resolution;
  • Litigation experience—we can take your case to court and represent you effectively in legal proceedings;
  • Support and guidance—we can provide support and help alleviate some of the stress when dealing with pregnancy-related workplace issues or maternity leave disputes; and 
  • Maximizing compensation—if you’ve experienced pregnancy discrimination or denial of maternity leave benefits, we can help you seek appropriate compensation, including back pay, lost benefits, and potential damages.

If you believe you have experienced discrimination, our experienced attorneys are here to help. Since our founding, we’ve collected over $45 million in settlements and verdicts for our clients and are ready to fight for you. 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) 465-4802 to schedule a free consultation.

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Julian Burns King graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and founded King & Siegel in 2018. As head of the Firm’s discrimination and harassment practice areas, she champions the rights of working parents and victims of workplace discrimination and harassment. She has been recognized as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers annually since 2018 and has recovered tens of millions of dollars on behalf of her clients.

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