Maternity Leave Laws in California


One of the hardest decisions I had to make after I got pregnant was how much maternity leave to take.  Surprisingly my HR department was not very helpful.  Our company doesn’t provide any paid maternity leave.  And like most mothers, I couldn’t really afford to take unpaid maternity leave.  Luckily I live in California which is a state that is pretty liberal in their laws regarding pregnancy disability pay and paid family bonding time.  Part of the confusion is all the different types of leave with their confusing acronyms.  First let’s divide up the laws into unpaid and paid leave.

Unpaid Leave

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

This is a federal act that offers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a rolling 12 months.  It is unpaid.  But it offers job protection. There are some exceptions, so be sure to do your own reading on FMLA.  This is open for both mothers and fathers. If your spouse decides to take CA PFL (below), he needs to tell H.R. that he is also taking FMLA.

California Family Rights Act (CFRA)

This provides an additional 12 weeks of unpaid, but job-protected leave for baby bonding.  One big caveat, my fellow pregnant Californians: this leave can overlap with FMLA.  Once your doctor has cleared you to go back to work (generally 6-8 weeks post partum), CFRA kicks in.  This means that you most likely will not get 24 weeks of job-protection.  Depending on how much time you take off before the baby is born, when the baby is born, and the type of delivery, you may get a few weeks less of job-protected leave.

Paid Leave

California Pregnancy Disability Leave (CA PDL)

This is PAID leave (as long as you’ve paid into the State Disability Insurance) in Calfornia under the state disability plan for up to 4 months.  You get paid up to 55% of your salary up to a weekly maximum benefit cap (for 2014, that’s $1075/week).  Generally, pregnant moms are entitled to four weeks prior to your due date and six weeks after the baby is born (eight if you deliver by c-section).  There is no job protection, but you take this paid leave in conjunction with your FMLA.  Your doctor determines when you are disabled and when you are cleared back to work.  For more information check out the California Employment Development Department (EDD) website.

California Paid Family Leave (CA PFL)

This paid leave gives both mother and fathers (and adoptive parents) six weeks of paid leave up to 55% of your salary (with the same maximum cap as CA PDL).  Again, there is no job protection, but you can take this leave in conjunction with FMLA or CFRA.

Let’s face it, we all just want to know how long we can be out on maternity leave and still get paid for it. In a nut shell, you can take off 4 weeks before your due date and 6-8 weeks of after the baby is born under CA PDL. Then tack on an additional 6 weeks under CA PFL.  That’s roughly 16-18 weeks of paid leave with job protection if you use the full benefit and assuming there are no complications in your pregnancy or delivery.

Originally I planned on working up to when I delivered but you get paid leave for 4 weeks before your due date but if you don’t use it, you lose it.  You can’t take those 4 weeks and add it to your time after the baby is born.  Plus you are so uncomfortable in the last few weeks of pregnancy that it’s worth it to take the time off.  You might think that 55% of your pay is not enough to live on.  But remember that 55% is not taxed.  Most people after taxes, really only take home 60-70% of their gross pay so the difference between 55% of your pay and 60-70% of your pay is not that large of a difference.  In addition to the 16 weeks paid leave, I decided to take 2 weeks sick pay and 2 weeks vacation for a total of 20 weeks paid leave.  That’s closet to 5 months off.  This time off with your baby is priceless and you should take off as much time as you think you can afford.  Hope this information helps someone else.

How much maternity leave are you planning on taking? How much of it is paid?

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