Taking Pregnancy Leave in California

Learn about your rights as a pregnant employee in California.

Are you a pregnant and employed in California? If so, you probably have questions about pregnancy leave. How much time can you take off? For what purposes can you take leave from work? Will you be paid during leave? For the answers to these questions, and more, read on.

Pregnancy Disability Leave

In California, employers with five or more employees are required to provide pregnancy disability leave under the state’s  Pregnancy Disability Leave Act. Pregnant employees may take up to four months of leave during any period of time during which they are unable to work due to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.

How Much Time Can I Take Off?

Pregnant employees may take up to four months of leave during the time that they are actually disabled by pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition. This time may be taken before or after the birth of the child and includes time off for severe morning sickness, medically necessary bed rest, childbirth, and recovery from childbirth and any pregnancy-related complications.

The exact amount of time off allowed for pregnancy disability leave depends on each employee’s situation. However, employees with “normal” pregnancies and deliveries are generally considered to be disabled for up to four weeks prior to giving birth and up to six weeks after giving birth. This is also the period of time for which California’s State Disability Insurance (SDI) program will typically pay disability benefits to pregnant employees (see "Will I Be Paid During Leave?" below).

Will I Be Paid During Leave?

Employers are not required to pay employees during pregnancy disability leave. However, an employee may use accrued paid leave during this time, such as vacation, sick leave, or paid time off (PTO). Employers can require pregnant employees to use accrued sick leave (but not accrued vacation or PTO) during their pregnancy leave.

Pregnant employees may apply for disability benefits through the California  State Disability Insurance  program. An employee with a pregnancy-related disability may receive a portion of her wages during her leave, typically ranging from $50 to $1,104 per week. For more information, see Nolo’s article,  California Short-Term Disability Benefits.

How Do I Request Leave?

If you need time off for pregnancy disability leave, you may make a verbal or written request to your employer. Whenever possible, this request should be made at least 30 days before the leave is to begin. If you’re unable to provide 30 days’ notice because of an emergency or unexpected change in your condition, you must give notice as soon as it is practical.

If your employer requires a doctor’s certification for other types of disability leave, you may be required to provide a similar certification for your pregnancy disability leave. The doctor’s certification should be in writing and should include the following information:

  • the date on which you became disabled
  • the anticipated length of the disability, and
  • a statement that you are unable to work due to a pregnancy-related disability.

California Family Rights Act

The  California Family Rights Act  (CFRA)  requires employers with 50 or more employees (“covered employers”) to provide eligible employees with time off for certain family and medical reasons. Among other reasons, employees may take leave under CFRA for a serious medical condition or to bond with a new child. Leave under this Act is unpaid unless the employee qualifies for paid leave through a state program or company policy.

To qualify for CFRA leave, an employee must have worked for a covered employer for at least 12 months and must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months immediately preceding the leave.

Serious Medical Condition

If a pregnant employee experiences a serious medical condition related to her pregnancy, she is entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the California Family Rights Act. Such leave runs concurrently with leave taken under the California Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) Act. In other words, a pregnant employee would not be entitled to four month off under the PDL and another 12 weeks off under CFRA for medical complications arising out of pregnancy or childbirth.

Bonding Leave

Under the California Family Rights Act, eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks of leave to bond with a newborn. Although leave is unpaid under CFRA, employees may be entitled to paid leave under their employers’ policies or through the  California Paid Family Leave Act. While the Paid Family Leave Act does not itself give an employee the right to take leave, it does provide employees who are otherwise entitled to leave with partial wage payments during the leave. Under the Act, a parent may receive up to 55% of her weekly wage for up to six weeks while on bonding leave.

Bonding leave does not run concurrently with pregnancy disability leave. If a pregnant employee is actually disabled by pregnancy or delivery for the full four months allowed by the California Pregnancy Disability Leave Act, she can still take 12 weeks of bonding leave. This means she can take up to seven months off in total.

Company Policy

Even when not required to by law, some employers offer pregnancy and maternity or paternity leave to their employees. Some employers even offer paid leave for these purposes. Be sure to check your employee handbook or other company policies to find out what your company offers.

Returning to Work

In general, an employer must return a pregnant employee to the same position she held before taking leave for pregnancy disability or bonding with a new child. However, an employer may reinstate the returning employee to a comparable position (that is, one that is virtually identical) if the original position was eliminated for legitimate business reasons.

The only exceptions where an employer would not be required to reinstate the employee to a comparable position are where:

  • the employer can show that the employee would not have been offered the comparable position had the employee remained employed continuously, or
  • no comparable position for which the employee is qualified is available.

Denial of Leave May Be Discrimination

If your employer denies you pregnancy leave for which you are eligible, your employer may be discriminating against you. If you have questions about pregnancy discrimination, contact the California  Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Its website also has answers to frequently asked questions about pregnancy leave rights and discrimination. If you believe your employer has discriminated against due to your pregnancy or need for leave, talk to a lawyer to find out how to assert your rights.

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