California Pregnancy Disability Leave

The vast majority of employees can take time off for pregnancy and childbirth.

Updated by , Attorney · University of San Francisco School of Law

Are you pregnant and employed in California? If so, you probably have questions about maternity 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.

What Is California's Pregnancy Disability Leave Law?

In California, employers with five or more employees are required to provide pregnancy disability leave under the state's Pregnancy Disability Leave Act (PDL). 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. 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. It also includes routine prenatal or postnatal medical care.

How Much Time Can I Take Off?

The exact amount of time off allowed for pregnancy disability leave depends on each employee's situation. For the typical pregnancy and childbirth without complications, employees are generally considered to be disabled for:

  • four weeks prior to giving birth, and
  • six weeks after birth (for a vaginal delivery) or eight weeks after birth (for a C-section).

In total, most pregnant employees will get between 10 and 12 weeks off for pregnancy disability leave. However, employees who are unable to work longer than this due to a pregnancy-related condition can receive up to four months off.

What If I Need More Time Off?

Once the pregnancy disability leave is over, eligible employees can take an additional 12 weeks off to bond with the child. This is called "parental" or "bonding" leave. However, it is only available to employees who work for employers with at least 20 employees. (See our article on parental leave in California.)

If you've used up all of your entitled leave, but you are still unable to work due to a physical or mental condition, you might qualify for additional time off. California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. One form of reasonable accommodation might be more time off, if it will allow you to return to your job in the foreseeable future.

Will I Be Paid During Leave?

Employers are not required to provide paid 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, however, receive short-term disability benefits through the California State Disability Insurance program during their pregnancy disability leave. An employee may receive a little over half of her wages during her leave, subject to a maximum set by law each year. For more information, including the current maximum, see California Short-Term Disability Benefits. (Paid family leave benefits are available during bonding leave; see California Paid Family Leave FAQ.)

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.

Will I Be Reinstated to the Same Job?

In general, an employer must return a pregnant employee to the same position she held before taking leave for pregnancy disability. 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 disability 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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