The State of California requires all employees to pay into its short-term disability insurance (SDI) program through payroll deductions. When employees become unable to work due to disability, they can collect weekly benefits from the program until they are either ready to go back to work or the benefits expire. The program is administered by California’s Employment Development Department (EDD).
Employees Eligible for SDI
Employees who have received at least $300 in wages during their “base period” are eligible for SDI payments, assuming SDI deductions have been taken out of this pay. (The base period is the twelve months that ends just prior to the last complete calendar quarter before the employee files an SDI claim.)
Employees must miss eight consecutive days of work to be able to start receiving payments. In addition, an employee must be under the care of a doctor, and the doctor must certify that the employee is unable to work.
What Counts as Disability
Any time your doctor certifies that you cannot do your job, you are disabled in the eyes of EDD. You don’t have to be unable to do any type of work, you just have to be unable to do the regular and customary duties of your job.
Pregnancy. You can generally receive SDI two to four weeks before you are due to give child birth and for four weeks after your child is born (six weeks after for a C-section).
Elective surgery. Recovery from elective and cosmetic surgeries is covered by SDI, as long as your doctor certifies that you are disabled.
Ways Employees Can Disqualify Themselves From SDI
In some situations, employees can lose their eligibility for SDI benefits. Benefits are not available for an employee who:
- missed the doctor’s appointment that the EDD set up
- is unable to work as the result of a felony he or she committed
- is incarcerated after being convicted of a crime
- is receiving unemployment benefits
- is receiving sick leave that equals his or her full salary or regular wages
- is receiving paid family leave benefits, or
- is receiving workers' comp payments that are higher than what the employee would receive from SDI.
Amount of SDI payments
The amount of your bi-weekly payment is tied to how much you earned during your base period. You will be paid 55% the amount of the average wages that you were paid by your employer during the calendar quarter of the base period that you made the most money. If you worked two jobs during your base period, your average wages will include wages from both jobs.
However, the maximum weekly amount is $1,067 (in 2013). SDI payments are not taxable (though California paid family leave payments are).
The EDD website includes a chart of weekly SDI benefit amounts based on the amount of money you made in the highest quarter of your base period.
Timing of Base Period
Here’s a chart showing your base period for recent and upcoming quarters.
Date Claim Filed Base Period
Oct 1, 2012 to Dec 31, 2012 July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012
Jan 1, 2013 to March 31, 2013 Oct 1, 2011 to September 30, 2012
April 2, 2013 to June 30, 2013 Jan 1, 2012 to Dec 31, 2012
July 1, 2013 to September 30, 2013 April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013
October 1, 2013 to December 31, 2013 Jul 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013
Because the state uses your highest-paid quarter of your base period to calculate your weekly payment, the date you file your claim can affect your benefits amount. You can use this to your advantage by choosing the date that will give you the base period with the highest wages, but you must file a claim with EDD within seven weeks of becoming unable to work.
How Long Benefits Will Be Paid
Payments can be made up to 52 weeks for most employees, if they remain unable to work that long. However, self-employed persons who pay into the system can receive benefits for only 39 weeks, and those in alcohol or drug rehab can often only receive payments for 90 days (unless they have a certified disability for drug or alcohol addiction).
How Other Benefits Affect Your SDI Benefit
Sick pay or PTO. Paid sick time, PTO, or holiday pay that you receive while receiving SDI will be subtracted from your SDI benefit amount, as will wages for part-time work (for instance, light duty work related to your disability). You can ask the EDD to “integrate” the SDI benefit with your sick pay or PTO, however. If your employer agrees, your employer can pay you just enough sick time or PTO so that, when combined with SDI, you will be receiving the same amount as your normal salary or wages. On your application form, you write “Integrated Benefits” for the type of pay you are receiving from your employer.
In addition, you may receive sick time or PTO for the first seven days of your disability, since SDI will only start paying you on the eighth day.
Paid vacation. Receiving paid vacation benefits will not affect your SDI payment.
Social Security disability. If you apply for and are approved for Social Security disability benefits, the state may subtract your disability benefits from your SDI payment.
Filing a Claim for SDI
You can file a claim online at the SDI Online page of EDD’s website or you can file Form DE 2501, Claim for Disability Insurance Benefits, which you can request be mailed to you from the EDD website. You have only 49 days from becoming disabled to file a claim. You’ll also need to ask your doctor fill out a medical certificate of disability or register online and certify your disability online.
If the EDD approves your application for SDI benefits, you will be sent a notice of eligibility, which will include an estimate of your weekly benefit amount.
If your employer is not cooperating, or you are uncertain of your leave rights, you may want to speak to an employment lawyer. The SDI program does not give you leave or reinstatement rights or protect your job, but the California Family Rights Act, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, California’s pregnancy disability leave law, and the ADA all provide some form of job protection.