Back-to-back pregnancies: What happens to my maternity leave?

In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, what better topic to cover than IRISH TWINS!

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Here’s the scenario….what happens when a California mother delivers two babies within the same year (otherwise known as Irish Twins!)? What leave laws will the mother be entitled to in this situation? (Shout out to the reader who posted this question!)

First off, Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) is per pregnancy. So, no matter how soon you become pregnant with Baby #2 you will be fully entitled to PDL. PDL provides up to 17.3 weeks of unpaid job protected leave for the purpose of pregnancy, childbirth, and other related conditions. As emphasized in my How To Milk Your Benefits post, you don’t get all 17.3 weeks of PDL. The actual duration of your leave is for however long your doctor certifies your disability. The “standard” duration of disability for pregnancy and childbirth is 4 weeks before the estimated due date and 6 weeks after birth for a vaginal delivery or 8 weeks after for a c-section. If you experience any complications during your pregnancy and/or after birth, your doctor can certify an extension(s) beyond the “standard” duration.

Okay, so far pretty straight forward….you get PDL because you’re pregnant again. Woot woot! But, now the trick(ier) part. Assuming you work for a CFRA-eligible employer, the big question here is whether you would be eligible for CFRA bonding leave for Baby #2. The answer to this depends on how your employer resets the clock on CFRA.

As a reminder, the eligibility requirements for CFRA are as follows:

  • Must work for an employer with 20+ employees within a 75 mile radius.
  • Have worked for the employer for at least one year
  • Have worked at least 1,250 hours within the past year

Also – as a reminder – a CFRA-eligible employee will get an additional 12 weeks of unpaid job protected leave for the purpose of bonding with baby following PDL.

There are 4 different ways an employer can reset the clock on CFRA. Employers may select any of the following methods, but the method must be applied consistently and uniformly for all employees.

1. The Calendar Year 
Pretty self-explanatory here. You get 12 weeks of CFRA each calendar year (January 1 through December 31).

2. Any Fixed 12-Months
Also pretty self-explanatory. You get 12 weeks of CFRA each fixed year (i.e fiscal year, employment anniversary date, etc).

3. The 12-Month Measured Forward
The 12-month period is measured forward from the first date an employee takes CFRA. Then, the next 12-month period would begin the first time CFRA leave is taken after completion of the prior 12-month period. Sounds complicated, but it’s not….

Example: If you took CFRA leave for Baby #1 on June 1, 2017, then the next 12-week period would begin on June 1, 2018.

4. The “Rolling” 12-Month Period Measured Backward.
This is the most complicated method used. The 12-month period is measured backward from the date an employee uses any CFRA leave. Under the “rolling” 12-month period, each time an employee takes CFRA, the remaining leave entitlement would be the balance of the 12 weeks which has not been used during the immediately preceding 12 months. Ummm, huhhhh? 

Example: You request to take CFRA leave for Baby #2 on June 1, 2018. Your employer looks back 12 months from June 2, 2017 through June 1, 2018 to see if any CFRA has been taken. As long as you haven’t used any CFRA time during that period, you would be eligible for the full 12 weeks of CFRA on June 1, 2018. If you’ve used some CFRA during that time, you would be eligible for just the remaining balance.

Also – super important – regardless of the method used, you still need to meet the 1,250 hours worked requirement again prior to the start of your leave. If you’re taking CFRA leave immediately following PDL, the 1,250 hours must be met preceding your PDL; and if there’s a gap between PDL and CFRA, then the 1,250 hours must be met immediately preceding your CFRA leave.

So, if you find yourself in a situation where you might have recently taken a CFRA leave of absence – whether it be because you were bonding with a baby or you were using CFRA to care for a spouse, parent or ill child – check with your employer to see which method they use.

Note, PDL and CFRA provide unpaid job protection. To find out more about wage replacement programs – SDI and PFL – check out this post.

Calculating Your SDI and PFL Amount (Updated Info)

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As of January 1, 2018, benefit rates for both SDI and PFL have increased from 55% to either 60% or 70%, depending on income. I’ll get into the nitty-gritty in just a bit, but for now, to get an idea of what your SDI and PFL benefits might be, check out this handy-dandy calculator. This calculator really should only be used to get an approximate figure since there are a number of factors (i.e. health insurance premiums deducted pre-tax) that can adjust your gross wage.

If you want to learn exactly how your benefit amount is calculated, read on. Otherwise, you can just rely on the calculator for an estimate, but you know what they say….”knowledge is power!”

First and foremost, to be eligible for SDI and PFL, you must have been or currently paying into CA SDI taxes through your payroll deductions. If you aren’t sure, take a look at your pay stubs and you’ll find deductions for something along the lines of CASDI, SDI, or DI. If you’ve got that, you’re golden. Moving on….

Your SDI/PFL benefit amount is based on the quarter with the highest gross wages earned within a particular base period. Your base period varies depending on what month you file for disability (see chart below).

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A base period covers 12 months and is divided into four consecutive quarters. The base period includes gross wages subject to SDI tax which were paid approximately 5 to 18 months before your disability claim began. Of note, the base period does not include wages paid at the time your disability begins. For a SDI claim to be valid, you must have at least $300 in wages in the base period.

To determine if you are eligible for benefits at 60% or 70%, your highest earning quarter is compared to the State Average Quarterly Wages (SAQW). Those who earned less than one-third of the SAQW will get the 70%; and those who earned one-third or more of the SAQW will get the 60%. One-third of the SAQW is $5,229.98. So, here’s how it breaks down:

  • If your highest quarterly earnings are less than $929, your weekly benefit amount (WBA) is $50.
  • If your highest quarterly earnings are between $929 and $5,229.98, your WBA is approximately 70 percent of your earnings.
  • If your highest quarterly earnings are more than $5,229.98, your weekly benefit amount is EITHER approximately 60 percent of your earnings OR 23.3% of the state average weekly wage ($281.21), whichever is greater.

Now, for some examples…

Example 1

Shelly goes out on disability on April 1, 2018, giving her a base period of January 2017 to December 2017. She had the following gross wages in each quarter:

  • January – March: $11,000
  • April – June: $10,000
  • July – September: $10,000
  • October – December: $9,000

Shelly’s highest earning quarter ($11,000) is greater than one-third of the SAQW ($5,229.98), so she is eligible for benefits at 60%. Then, her weekly benefit amount is calculated as follows: 

  1.  Find the weekly wages earned by dividing the highest earning quarter by 13 (13 weeks in a quarter): $11,000 / 13= $846.15
  2. Determine benefit rate at 60%: $846.15 x .6 = $507.70
  3. Compare the calculated benefit (found in step 2) to 23.3% of the state weekly average of $281.21. Since her benefit amount is greater than the SWA, she is eligible for the greater amount; therefore, her benefit amount is $507.70.

Example 2

Beth goes out on leave on March 1, 2018, giving her a base period of October 2016 to September 2017. She had the following gross wages in each quarter:

  • October – December: $4,500
  • January – March: $3,000
  • April – June: $5,000
  • July – September: $3,400

Beth’s highest earning quarter ($5,000) is less than one-third of the SAQW ($5,229.98), so she is eligible for benefits at 70%. Then, her weekly benefit amount is calculated as follows:

  • Find the weekly wages earned by dividing the highest earning quarter by 13 (13 weeks in a quarter): $5,000 / 13= $384.62
  • Determine benefit rate at 70%: $384.62 x .7 = $269.23

Example 3

Joe just had a baby and goes out on PFL leave on November 1, 2018, giving him a base period of July 2017 to June 2018. He had the following gross wages in each quarter:

  • July – September: $5,090
  • October – December: $6,000
  • January – March: $5,500
  • April – June: $6,050

Joe’s highest earning quarter ($6,050) is greater than one-third of the SAQW ($5,229.98), so he is eligible for benefits at 60%. Then, his weekly benefit amount is calculated as follows:

  • Find the weekly wages earned by dividing the highest earning quarter by 13 (13 weeks in a quarter): $6,050 / 13= $465.38
  • Determine benefit rate at 60%: $465.38 x .6 = $279.23
  • Compare the calculated benefit (found in step 2) to 23.3% of the state weekly average of $281.21. Since his benefit amount ($279.23) is less than the SWA, he is eligible to receive the greater amount; therefore, his benefit amount is $281.21.

Also, of note, for claims beginning on or after January 1, 2018, weekly benefits range from $50 to a maximum of $1,216. To qualify for the maximum weekly benefit amount ($1,216) you must earn at least $26,325.01 in a calendar quarter during your base period.

There you have it! Easy as 1-2-3…hmmm, maybe not? But for real, the next time your kid (or your kid in the future) says “math sucks; we’ll never have to use it in real life so why do I have to do it?,” here’s an example you can throw at them. #lifelessons

2018: Important Updates to Maternity Leave

HAPPY NEW YEAR! 2018…more like, two thousand – GREAT-een! (sorry, I had to do it!)

First, I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday, as well as a fantastic start to their new year! Second, I clearly need to make updating this blog a new year’s resolution. I’ve still been super active on spreading the good word on maternity leave info, but I’ve been doing it mainly on my Facebook Group, California Maternity Leave Support. But alas, new year, new goals – I’ll start updating this blog more often! Okay, with that said, let’s get down to some California maternity leave business….

2018 brings two major updates to the world of maternity leave for California residents.

1.Bonding leave extends to employers with 20+ employees:

Effective January 1, 2018, the California New Parent Leave Act (NPLA) requires employers with over 20 employees within a 75 mile radius to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement.

Previously bonding leave was limited to those working for larger employers with over 50+ employees. However, thanks to NPLA, employers with 20-49 employees are now subject to CFRA regulations applicable to leave for the birth, adoption or foster care placement of an employee’s child.

Note that all other CFRA eligibility requirements remain the same. This includes 1) having worked at least a year with your employer, and 2) having clocked in at least 1,250 WORKING hours during the 12-month period immediately prior to the date the leave is to commence.

It’s important to note that NPLA only affects the “baby bonding” component of CFRA. As such, an employee eligible for NPLA is not entitled to other forms of leave provided by the CFRA. For example, if you need to take leave for your own serious health condition under CFRA, the 50+ employee requirement for CFRA eligibility still remains.

Further, NPLA has no effect on FMLA or its eligibility requirements (i.e. the 50+ employee requirement for FMLA remains the same). But, remember, in California, in the context of maternity leave, FMLA really doesn’t matter since Pregnancy Disability Leave (a state law) supersedes FMLA. Plus, PDL is more generous than FMLA, giving pregnant women UP TO 17.3 weeks of leave vs. 12 weeks under FMLA, and PDL is available to those who work at companies with 5+ employees. FMLA, if applicable, will simply run in the background of PDL.

So, what does this mean for ME and my maternity leave?

This means that if you work for a company with 20+ employees and was previously not allowed in to the “CFRA club” (untz untz untz), you are now covered under NPLA. And as a result, you’ll get an additional 12 weeks to bond with your baby after you’re done with the PDL portion of your leave. At minimum, here’s what your leave timeline would look like:

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Thanks NPLA and California for giving those hard-working mammas and pappas at smaller businesses some more QT with their bebes!

For more info on maternity leave 101, check out this post.

2. Increases to California SDI and PFL Benefit Amounts

The second update is the increase to SDI and PFL benefit amounts. As of January 1, 2018, thanks to AB 903, wage replacement rates for SDI and PFL increased from 55% to:

  • 70% for those who earned less than one-third of the state’s average quarterly wage during the base period (prior four quarters); OR
  • 60% for those who earned one-third or more of the state’s average quarterly wage during the base period (prior four quarters).

I’ll be doing a blog post on how to calculate your benefit amount soon, so stay tuned. Further, the bill also eliminated the 7-day unpaid waiting period for PFL. Note, the waiting period for SDI remains intact.

So, there you have it! Some nice updates to your maternity leave plans!

Holla’ if you have any questions or join my Facebook Group!

 

 

 

 

California Maternity Leave: What am I eligible for?

The United States offers a pretty shitty maternity leave program. In fact, the U.S. is only one of three countries that doesn’t guarantee a paid maternity leave (the others are Papua New Guinea and Oman). W T F!

So, if you’re pregnant and just starting your maternity leave research, the first step is to understand what you are eligible for at the state and federal levels.

The five main “components” to California maternity leave — all of which have some sort of eligibility requirement — include FMLA (job protection), PDL (job protection), SDI (wage replacement), CFRA (job protection), and PFL (wage replacement). I’ll get into each one below, so read on, sista’!

FMLA Eligibility 

The United States offers a federal maternity leave program called Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA provides 12 weeks of unpaid job protected leave for a serious health condition (pregnancy is considered a “serious health condition”) and for the birth and care of your newborn child.

While FMLA is a federal program, you must still meet the following requirements:

  • Your employer employs at least 50 people within a 75-mile radius of your worksite
  • You have worked for your employer for at least 12 months (even on a part-time or temporary basis)
  • You have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months before the leave

These eligibility requirements sadly leave out many women who work at small companies or are self-employed. In fact, two in five women don’t qualify for leave under FMLA, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. SMDH!

PDL Eligibility

For California residents, however, there is a state law called the Pregnancy Disibility Law, which provides women the right to take job-protected unpaid leave for a pregnancy-related condition. Health care providers will generally certify a pregnancy disability leave for 10 to 12 weeks for a normal pregnancy. The criteria, which are much more lenient than FMLA, are the following:

  • Disabled due to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, and
  • Work for an employer who employs at least 5 employees

Because PDL covers many more workers, women who don’t qualify for job protection under FMLA may still be entitled to take unpaid leave for a pregnancy-related condition under PDL. Also, if you’re eligible for FMLA, your PDL leave will run at the same time as your FMLA leave because both laws cover pregnancy-related conditions.

State Disability Eligibility 

FMLA and PDL do not offer wage replacements – only job protection. But, if you qualify for FMLA and/or PDL, you can typically claim State Disability Insurance (SDI) while you’re on FMLA/PDL leave to get partial wage replacements at around 55% of your total weekly pay.

To be eligible for SDI during your maternity leave you must have earned at least $300 from which SDI deductions were withheld during a previous period. To confirm this, look at your paycheck and there should be a line item noting this deduction. And, you must be under the care and treatment of a licensed doctor during your leave, which is obvi since you’re pregnant.

CFRA Eligibility 

The great state of California provides another bonus for new moms with a state law called the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). CFRA provides 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protection leave for the birth of a child for purposes of bonding. (Note: FMLA/PDL covers pregnancy and childbirth recovery, whereas CFRA covers child bonding).

The eligibility requirements for CFRA are pretty much the same as FMLA.

PFL Eligibility 

Similar to FMLA, CFRA does not offer wage replacement. However, while you are out on CFRA leave, you are eligible for wage replacements under the Paid Family Leave (PFL) program.

The eligibility requirements for PFL are the same as SDI, so those covered by SDI are automatically covered for PFL. The wage replacement is the same at 55% of your total wages as well.

 

Okay, so what does this all mean?!

In a nutshell if you are eligible for FMLA and CFRA, you’ll get at least 22 weeks of maternity leave (24 weeks if you have a c-section). Here’s a timeline:

FMLA/CFRA Eligible Maternity Leave

FMLA/CFRA Eligible Maternity Leave

For an even more detailed rundown of California maternity leave, check out this post on how to Milk Your Benefits!

And, if you are not eligible for FMLA/CFRA, have no fear, check out this post on what your coverage looks like.

 

 

Maternity Leave Tip of the Day: 4

Maternity leave can be a very delicate time for a family. Aside from the profound new challenges that come with taking care of a newborn (seriously, you’d think evolution has done a better job at making newborns more self sufficient!), maternity leave can bring up financial concerns that may not have affected your family previously.

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In California, eligible employees are entitled to a period of paid maternity leave, but the pay is partial at about 55%. [Get the full scoop on what you’re entitled to here]. Having your salary reduced to a little less than half of what you normally bring in can be shocking and can put stress on an already stressful situation.

Several months before you set off on maternity leave, do talk to your spouse/partner (or a professional financial advisor) about your financial situation so you know where you stand before the baby arrives. Once you get an accurate picture, you can work together as a family to save and cut out any unnecessary or “I won’t die without that” costs (i.e. Starbucks, downgraded or no cable).

Also, keep track of the checks you’re getting from disability (SDI) and paid family leave to ensure you’re being paid the correct amounts. You obviously don’t want to be underpaid (hell no!), but getting overpaid will create annoying issues with the Employment Development Department (EDD, the folks who pay you during maternity leave) later on.

Happy maternity leave!

If you’ve been in this situation where you had to assess your finances before/during maternity leave, tell us about it in the comments. What did you do to reduce costs and save?

 

What happens to my state disability insurance (SDI) benefits if my baby is overdue? 

Pregnancy is beautiful, pregnant women are goddesses, pregnant bodies are perfect…yada yada yada. It’s all unicorns and rainbows until you get to around 38 weeks and you feel more like this…

Only about 4-5% of babies are born on their actual due date, so the chance of delivering past 40 weeks is totally common and normal. As you begin thinking about when to start your maternity leave – and so much of that is based around the expected due date – let’s discuss what happens to your Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) and State Disability Insurance (SDI) in the event your baby decides to take his/her sweet time entering this world.

In case you haven’t read the Maternity Leave 101 post, here’s some background info to get you up to speed.

In California, as long as you work for an employer with over 5 employees you are eligible for Pregnancy Disability Leave, which provides up to* 17.3 weeks (as certified by your doctor) of unpaid job protection for disability due to pregnancy, childbirth and other related conditions. *The actual duration of your PDL is for however long your doctor has certified, but the “standard” duration for a normal, healthy pregnancy and childbirth is 4 weeks before estimated due date and 6 weeks after for a vaginal delivery or 8 weeks for a c-section. Should you have any complications before or after birth, your doctor can certify an extension past this “standard” duration.

While your job is protected (unpaid) under PDL, you may be eligible to receive partial wage replacement through State Disability Insurance (SDI). SDI begins on the first day of your PDL (minus the 7-day unpaid waiting period) and continues through the entire duration you are “disabled” by pregnancy and childbirth. Through SDI, you’ll be paid either 60% or 70% of your normal wages. Read here for the full rundown on how to calculate your SDI benefits.

So, if the “standard” is to start maternity leave at 36 weeks, what happens if you’re late? Don’t you worry – the system’s got you covered! Regardless of how late you are, your pre-birth PDL time will simply be extended until you give birth, and your post-birth recovery time will apply accordingly to how you delivered.

Example: You start your leave at 36 weeks but you don’t give birth until 41 weeks via c-section: Your PDL/SDI will start at 36 weeks (minus the 7-day unpaid waiting period for SDI), you’ll give birth at 41 weeks, and you’ll continue your PDL/SDI until 8 weeks postpartum for your c-section delivery. Screen Shot 2018-03-06 at 3.18.31 PMExample 2: If you’re overdue by 2 weeks (gasp!), same sitch. Your pre-birth PDL/SDI time will simply be extended until week 41, you’ll give birth at 42 weeks, and you’ll continue with PDL/SDI for however long necessary for post-birth recovery (either 6 weeks for vaginal, 8 weeks for c-section, or longer if medically necessary).

Also, on the flip side, if your baby comes early – which is also common – you’ll simply have PDL/SDI (minus the 7-day unpaid waiting period for SDI) up until the day you give birth, and continue with PDL/SDI for however long necessary for post-birth recovery.

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This is why I’m such a major advocate of starting your maternity leave 4 weeks before your estimated due date. It’s a “use it or lose it” scenario, so why not take advantage of every free day before boarding the New Parent Train. Choo Choo!

I should also make super clear that having a late or early baby won’t affect any of your post-birth entitlements. No matter when you actually have the baby, as long as you have available PDL time remaining (i.e. no complications during pregnancy that required you to start PDL way early), you’ll still get the 6 or 8 weeks of PDL/SDI after the baby is born per usual protocol (or more should you need medical extensions). Also, if eligible for CFRA, following PDL you are entitled to an additional 12 weeks of unpaid job protected leave for bonding with baby. During which time, you can receive wage replacement through PFL. For more info on CFRA/PFL, head on over to that Maternity 101 post, or here if you aren’t eligible for CFRA.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Once you give birth, you must report your birth to the EDD (the folks who manage SDI) by submitting the Request for Delivery Information (DE 2513) form typically found in your EDD inbox. That form will give the EDD the heads up on your delivery date and how you delivered, and they will adjust your claim dates accordingly.

Hope that helps any pre-birth anxiety in regards to your maternity leave benefits!

 

What happens if I don’t go back to work after maternity leave? Are there penalties?

The question of going back to work after maternity leave isn’t always an easy one, especially if you’re on the fence. Whether it’s a last minute gut decision or something you’ve always planned for, working moms often ask if there are potential ramifications or penalties of not going back to work after leave.

Unless there was a contractual obligation – like a signed agreement – for you to return to work after maternity leave, an employer usually wouldn’t have legal recourse. But, in some instances, an employer can require you to pay back the health benefit premium if you don’t go back. Bahhh, what!? So, before you send in your resignation letter, let’s talk more about the laws allowing employers to recover premiums and what some of the loop holes are.

The following applies to California moms who will take CFRA leave followed by PDL/FMLA leave. 

According to CFRA laws, “an employer may recover the premium that the employer paid for maintaining group health care coverage during any unpaid part of the CFRA leave.” (Emphasis is my own). Note the emphasis on UNPAID. If you are eligible to take 6 weeks of paid PFL during CFRA, you’re technically only on the hook to pay back premiums during the last 6 weeks of UNPAID CFRA. Also as a reminder, per PDL, FMLA and CFRA laws an employer must maintain your health care benefits while on leave – read more common questions here.

While making the life decision to be the full-time caretaker of your child is an exceptional and valid one, there may be other circumstances that require you not to return back to work. Your employer cannot require you pay back your portion of the premium if your failure to return was caused by the continuation, recurrence or onset of a serious health condition that would entitle you to family or medical leave, or by other circumstances beyond your control. The term “circumstances beyond the employee’s control” is quite nebulous. The CFRA laws don’t specifically define it, but the FMLA does:

“Other circumstances beyond the employee’s control. Examples of other circumstances beyond the employee’s control are necessarily broad. They include such situations as where a parent chooses to stay home with a newborn child who has a serious health condition; an employee’s spouse is unexpectedly transferred to a job location more than 75 miles from the employee’s worksite; a relative or individual other than a covered family member has a serious health condition and the employee is needed to provide care; the employee is laid off while on leave; or, the employee is a key employee who decides not to return to work upon being notified of the employer’s intention to deny restoration because of substantial and grievous economic injury to the employer’s operations and is not reinstated by the employer. Other circumstances beyond the employee’s control would not include a situation where an employee desires to remain with a parent in a distant city even though the parent no longer requires the employee’s care, or a parent chooses not to return to work to stay home with a well, newborn child.” (825.213 (2))

Okay, so now that we know your employer can make you pay back your premium if you don’t go back to work, let’s discuss an interesting loop hole. The CFRA law states that “an employee is deemed to have failed to return from leave if he/she works less than 30 days after returning from CFRA leave.” It goes further on to say that “an employee who retires during CFRA leave or during the first 30 days after returning is deemed to have returned from leave.” What does this mean? According to the laws, as long as you go back to work for at least 30 WORKING days there is no risk of you having to pay back your premium.

But here’s the thing…I’m not saying you should just go back to work for 30 days and quit. I’m just simply translating the law. If you absolutely know you aren’t going back to work, or even have doubts, talk to your manager or a trusted HR rep about your situation to confirm these details.

For non-California moms or folks who didn’t take CFRA leave, FMLA laws around this is similar. Read the full text of FMLA laws under the “Employer Recovery of Benefits Costs” section here