California Maternity Leave: How to milk it

There are seven wonders of the world. Wrong! There are eight; the final one being the mysterious maternity leave. When I found out I was pregnant one of the things that made me jump for joy (next to loving the alien bump growing inside me, obvi) was the prospect of setting off into maternity leave bliss. I felt like I had paid my dues working in stressful PR jobs throughout my career, so I knew I wasn’t going to be shy about really maximizing my maternity leave benefits.

But this was all much easier said than done since figuring out how to milk the system was incredibly hard to find. Pinpointing concrete information on maternity leave was like setting out on a mission to discover El Dorado. No joke guys, I was seriously OBSESSED with figuring out all the details of maternity leave. Also, I was convinced that my employer was jipping me several weeks of precious leave, so off to scouring the internet I went.

First, as a disclaimer, I am not an HR professional nor an employment law expert. The following is how I understood and applied my maternity leave benefits in California. Further, my understanding was confirmed by an attorney at The Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center. 

The following applies to employees who are eligible for the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) by meeting the following criteria:

  • 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 (about 25 hours per week) during the 12 months before the leave

Let’s get right to it. The bottom line is that for any healthy preggers (i.e. no need for extended bed rest or reasons to be out of work due to complications) you get 22-24 weeks of maternity leave (22 weeks for vaginal delivery and 24 weeks for c-section). Now, not all of that time is paid for (I’ll get to that later), but what this means is that you get 22-24 weeks of job protection. 

There are so many ways to explain maternity leave, but I think it’s easiest to explain it in chronological order. Here’s a chart I drew up (don’t mind the chicken scratch writing) and I’ll explain each step. I should mention that this chart is based on me having had a c-section on May 12.

My maternity leave timeline. I started my maternity leave on April 16, 4 weeks before my due date. I gave birth via c-section on May 12, which ended my PDL/FMLA on July 7 (8 weeks after 5/12). The end of the PDL/FMLA kicked in my 12-week CFRA, giving me a go-back-to-work date of September 29.

My 24 week maternity leave timeline. I started my maternity leave on April 16, 4 weeks before my due date. I gave birth via c-section on May 12, which ended my PDL/FMLA on July 7 (8 weeks after 5/12). The end of the PDL/FMLA kicked in my 12-week CFRA, giving me a go-back-to-work date of September 29.

For a typical, uncomplicated vaginal birth timeline, check out this baby (pun intended) published by The California Work and Family Coalition [full pamphlet here].

Uncomplicated vaginal birth. Courtesy of The California Work and Family Coalition

1) Starting your disability: First, decide when you want to start your maternity leave. Some take a week or two off before baby is expected to arrive, while others work literally right until the moment they are saddled up in the stirrups. (I had a boss once who actually sent me an email while in labor, but I digress…) It’s important to note that in California for healthy, uncomplicated pregnancies and births, women can get Pregnancy Disability Leave for up to 4 weeks before birth and 6-8 weeks after birth (will provide more detail on the second half later, as well as information on what happens if you have complications). My employer’s HR team never told me this. Also, read

PRO TIP: The 4 weeks before delivery is a “use it or lose it” situation. You don’t get to tack it on later, so if your individual situation allows for it USE IT. Some of my colleagues balked at me taking 4 weeks off before my due date saying I’ll get bored. Psshhh. Only boring people get bored, but on the real tip, the extra rest is amazeballs and I (assume this is the norm for all preggos) got HUGE in the last 2 weeks. UPDATED: I should clarify that it is typically a “use it or lose it” situation, except for when you have pregnancy-related complications that may keep you disabled past 13 weeks after birth. So, say you took 4 weeks off before birth, but then experience postpartum depression. You would only have 13 weeks of PDL remaining after birth. Had you not taken any time off before birth, you would have had all 17 weeks of PDL to use post birth. But, the reality is that you can’t predict what will happen to you, and personally, I think it’s important to take some time off before baby is born. There are other laws, including CFRA and reasonable accommodation, in place that will protect you even if you exhaust PDL and are still experiencing complications.

Also, an important heads up. Taking off 4 weeks before your due date will NOT affect your “go back to work” date, since that date is calculated from your actual delivery date not when you started maternity leave. I had a lot of people tell me that they would rather spend the extra 4 weeks with their newborn than take off early for maternity leave — not the case, mah friends!

As you patiently wait the arrival of your precious offspring, your job will be protected under the Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDL) and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and you will be paid 55% of your weekly wages under State Disability Insurance (SDI).

As a side note, you’ll often see references of PDL and FMLA combined, which can make things confusing. The reason why most literature combines them is because they run concurrently – they both start the minute you begin your maternity leave. But, the difference between these two is that:

  • PDL is a CA state law that provides job-protected, unpaid coverage for pregnancy-related conditions. PDL is much more generous than FMLA, providing up to 4 months (or 17 weeks) of job protection.
  • FMLA is a federal law that provides 12-weeks of job-protected, unpaid coverage to •bond with a newborn, newly adopted or foster child (or the child of a
    spouse or domestic partner) or care for yourself or a close family member with a serious health condition. UPDATED: While it’s important to remember that FMLA runs at the same time as PDL, for the purpose of understanding CA maternity leave, it might be easiest if you just think about PDL, especially since the state law supersedes the federal FMLA anyway.

2) You had your baby!: Okay, so after 4 loooong weeks your beautiful baby has finally entered the world. Hooray!

Once your baby is born, your Pregnancy Disability Leave/FMLA will continue for an additional 6 weeks for a vaginal birth or 8 weeks if you had a c-section; and you’ll continue to get partial pay under SDI (still at 55%).

UPDATED: Should you have any complications – physical or mental (i.e. postpartum depression) – due to your pregnancy or childbirth, your doctor can certify an extension to your pregnancy disability leave (along with your SDI payments).

3) Your baby is now 6 or 8 weeks: Now it’s time to bond: Once you’ve completed your 10 or 12 weeks of the PDL/FMLA combo – or more importantly, when your doctor has certified you no longer disabled by your pregnancy – the clock gets reset with 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) to bond with your baby (must meet eligibility requirements for CFRA). Your doctor will determine when you are cleared from disability – this is typically 6 or 8 weeks after birth, but should you be experiencing any complications your doctor can certify an extension on your PDL.

During CFRA, you will be paid 55% of your weekly wages under Paid Family Leave, but here’s the kicker…only for 6 weeks. This means that while you are under 12-weeks of job protection under CFRA, you’ll get partial pay for only 6 of those 12 weeks. Bummer. This is where most people can apply unused vacation time to offset not getting any sort of pay for the remainder of their leave. Also, you don’t need to take your 6-week PFL all at once. You can break it up and take it in hourly or daily increments as needed.

Okay, what I’m about to say next is important! Your “return to work” date is determined by when your CFRA ends. So, say your PDL/FMLA combo ended on July 7, which then kicks in the 12 weeks of CFRA, and then puts your “return to work date” to September 29. Make sense?

4) Your maternity leave has ended and you’re back at work. I won’t sugar coat it; it’s not easy going back to work after being out for 24 weeks. But, you make do and just like all things that suck at the beginning, once you get into the swing of things, you will find joy balancing out work and family life.

Hope this all makes sense. If you have any questions or issues, leave a comment!

P.S. BTW, turned out that my employer WAS wrong about when I was supposed to go back to work. Muahahaha! Knowledge is power, friends; knowledge is power!

UPDATE: If you’d like more information on California maternity leave, please email me at kiks16 [at] gmail.com. Also, come join the California Maternity Leave Support Facebook group where moms/dads can ask each other questions and get tips on how to maximize their maternity leave benefits.

If you’re NOT eligible for FMLA/CFRA, read this

41 thoughts on “California Maternity Leave: How to milk it

  1. mishi22 says:

    Thanks for breaking it all down. It’s so confusing looking into it all. What do you need to submit for each? I know with FMLA, my employer, doctor and I need to fill out a form. To submit a claim for PDL and PFL do you use the same website (www.edd.ca.gov)? What about CFRA?

    Like

    • Sorry for the delay in getting back to you! I’m so glad to hear that this post was helpful to you. It is SO confusing! Yes, for PDL and PFL you can use the online form on the EDD site. CFRA will kick in automatically when FMLA ends.

      Like

      • Amanda Marquez says:

        Do you apply for PFL the same time to apply for SDI? or do you apply for SDI, let that run its course and then apply for PFL. Im trying to plan it so that I maximize paid leave as well as just total leave in general.

        Like

      • You apply for PFL after SDI. You got it — apply for SDI, let that run its course, and then apply for PFL. About a week or so before SDI runs out, you’ll get a notification telling you to apply for PFL.

        Like

  2. Jennifer C. says:

    Thanks for the info and breakdown! So does the PDL run when you take the first 4 weeks off before your due date? My employer uses a third party company for leaves and they said my FMLA kicks in when I leave even when it’s before my due date and had told me that CFRA runs concurrently with FMLA. What paper work can I show them that I am actually due 22-24 weeks of job protection? They were telling me I only had 18 weeks total!! Thanks so much!!

    Like

    • Hey Jennifer,

      Glad to hear the breakdown is helpful. PDL and FMLA run concurrently, so they start at the same time. So, if you go out on maternity leave 4 weeks prior to your due date that’s when both PDL and FMLA will start. FMLA and CFRA can run concurrently (or “overlap” is a better way to think about it) if you have a vaginal birth (PDL/FMLA would run from weeks 1-10). Since FMLA is for a max of 12 weeks, the last 2 weeks will overlap/run concurrent with CFRA.

      Being told you only have 18 weeks is a common error, and it’s because they aren’t counting the 4 weeks prior to due date. As a reminder, taking the 4 weeks off before the baby is born is a “use it or lose it” scenario. If you don’t use it, you can’t tack it onto the end of your FMLA.

      Check out the 22-week maternity leave timeline on page 15 of this pamphlet by the California Work and Family Coalition: http://workfamilyca.org/resources/pdf/ca_family_leave_guide2013.pdf. Try showing your HR team that timeline.

      Keep me posted!

      Akiko

      Like

  3. Stephanie says:

    I really need help with this aplications . With my maternity leave stops on september 9 2015 so when is the best moment to apply for paid family leaving bounding?

    Like

    • Hi Stephanie, if you already have an active DI claim for maternity leave, you will automatically be notified from the EDD to transition from DI to PFL for bonding. I got a mailed notice from the EDD about 1.5 to 2 weeks before my DI was up. If you log in to your EDD online account, you should also see a note about this in your inbox. I’d give it a couple more days — maybe wait until the end of August to see if you get your notice. Also, you can enroll for PFL all online as well. Here’s a post I did all about how you can file for PFL online: https://typeamomtales.com/2015/07/09/how-do-you-file-for-maternity-leave/

      Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any questions!

      Like

  4. Grace says:

    This post is SOOO helpful in understanding maternity leave in CA. I didn’t know about the 4 weeks off prior to birth. In fact, I have two individuals in HR “helping” me; one stating I have one week prior to birth and the other stating that they standard is two. I think part of the mix up is that they are referring to our (large) company’s private insurance that covers the STD after CA SDI. Am I right in that CA SDI will cover my wage replacement (up to 55% or whatever it is) for the four weeks prior to my due date with a normal pregnancy. So CA SDI covers 4 weeks prior and then continues for the 6 weeks recovery for normal pregnancy and vaginal birth? Meaning is there anything extra I’m supposed to get from my OB? It’s unbelievable that in my pretty easy pregnancy THIS is what is causing me to lose sleep…I wish my HR dept really laid out all my options and rights. I even took your timeline and adjusted it to my due date and gave it to them and I got the response that the “graph was complicated” (what?! isn’t this your job?).

    Like

    • Hi Grace, so glad to hear the post was helpful! Seems like you’re having a very similar experience with HR as I did – so frustrating!

      You are correct. CA SDI covers up to 4 weeks before the expected delivery date and up to 6 weeks after the actual delivery for a vaginal birth and 8 weeks for a C-Section. Here’s the link from the EDD website stating so (see first question): http://www.edd.ca.gov/disability/FAQ_DI_Pregnancy.htm

      When you say extra from your OB, do you mean some sort of sign off? Your HR department should have given you a Certification of Healthcare Provider form for your OB to fill out and sign, and then you give back to HR. This form acts as a medical certification to support your request for pregnancy leave. On this form, your OB will state what date you will become disabled (aka the start date of your maternity leave) — this is where your OB can put down the date that is 4 weeks before your expected due date. As a heads up, healthcare providers generally are very accommodating about pregnant woman starting maternity leave 4 weeks before the due date. My OB didn’t question it at all; in fact, she encouraged it even with my healthy, normal pregnancy. Also, on the form is where your OB will put down the estimated date when your disability will end. My OB simply wrote “6-8 weeks postpartum” since you never know if you’ll have to get an emergency C-section (like I did!). Once your disability/SDI ends, you’ll start your 12-weeks of CFRA bonding leave, with 6 weeks of paid PFL.

      I linked back to this document in the post, but this one is super helpful and may be an “official enough” document for your HR team to read and take into consideration: http://workfamilyca.org/resources/pdf/ca_family_leave_guide2013.pdf.

      Hope this helps!

      Like

  5. CL says:

    Thank you for the info! My HR Is in NY, and I’m the first pregnant employee in ca in decade… Either they don’t know what they’re doing or they’re trying to rip me off.
    They also hire this absence management to handle my case, but again, they seem clueless…

    I’m just gonna throw these info at them now! This is super helpful:) thanks again and I hope you’re having an awesome weekend!

    Like

  6. Suzanne Dixon says:

    All amazing info! I know I’m late to this, but I have a question. My OB put an actual end date on my SDI for my twin boys. What if I give birth earlier? Does that date now change to be earlier, or no matter what, my disability ends on that Estimated End Date?

    Like

    • Hi Suzanne, thanks for the comment and congrats on your twin boys! Your disability end date is up to your OB. Your OB is basically certifying that you unable to work due to a disability related to childbirth, so if you give birth earlier or later – he/she could change the date to reflect the time you need to remain on disability. Make a reminder to check in with your OB, as you get closer to your due date to talk about the end date and update EDD as necessary should dates change.

      Like

  7. Lauren O says:

    FINALLY!!! A CLEAR breakdown of such confusing info!!! Not sure if you even know the answer to this, but, what if your employer provides STD? Can you use that in conjunction with or is it one or the other?

    Like

    • Hi Lauren, glad the post is helpful! Yes, you can utilize your employer’s STD with disability! My employer also provided STD during my maternity leave and I was able to collect both.

      Like

  8. T says:

    What about a planned early C section due to complications? For example I am expecting a delivery by C section at 37 weeks. Can I start my leave at 33 weeks? My doctor seems to think we need to use EDD which is of course 40 weeks, and I know I won’t be going that long so that makes no sense to me.

    Like

  9. Erika says:

    THank you! Thank You! this information is a life saver! I am due 07/27 and have been taken off work as of 07/01 – my question is, since my FMLA runs concurrent in a 12mth calender year (I had a miscarriage 07/31/15 so I went on FMLA for 7 days) does it re-start my 12 weeks as of 07/31?

    Like

  10. Jean says:

    Hi Akiko, thank you for this informative post! I am a CA resident but work remotely for a company based in VA and am very confused! I had a few questions for you. I am planning on going on leave two weeks before my EDD. The first week will be sick time, and once my CA SDI kicks in starting Week 2, it’s my understanding that my company (using a third party provider) will pay me the remaining amount under short term disability to bring me to 100% until the birth. That’s if the third party provider determines that I have a valid medical reason to go on leave before the birth and approves my claim. Once my baby is born, my employer will pay me up to 100% for 12 weeks under STD and company paid leave. So if I have a vaginal birth, I will be paid for 55% for six weeks through CA SDI + the remainder through my company STD/maternity leave policy for a total of 100%. My question for you is, once CA SDI runs out, do you know if I have the option to have my company pay me fully at 100% for the next six weeks, and THEN switch to PFL for another six weeks and use my vacation time to bring me to 100% for those last six weeks? Or am I required to receive PFL right after SDI, in which case, my employer will probably only try to pay me 45% instead of 100% of my pay and the last six weeks will be unpaid or vacation time? Also, I just got the medical certification form to fill out for my leave. Is this form only for FMLA leave or for baby bonding too? Am I correct in putting my first day not working as the start date, pregnancy as the reason? What should I put for the duration of the condition, if I’m eligible for 12 weeks under FMLA but taking leave two weeks prior to my due date? Would the duration be the day I expect my doctor to deem me no longer disabled, or when I expect to be back from my entire leave? Thank you so much for your help!

    Like

    • Hi Jean,

      So glad to hear that my post was helpful! I apologize it’s taken me so long to respond!

      You have up to a year from baby’s birth to use PFL, so technically you wouldn’t have to start your PFL right away (or back to back with SDI). The bigger question, is if your employer will allow this. Most often, employer’s who have this type of company benefit will require that you integrate/coordinate the SDI/PFL benefits with their company benefit. I actually had the same benefit and asked my employer the same question and got a “no,” but definitely give it a try. Also, just to be certain, I’d contact EDD to double check and confirm.

      Did your employer provide you the medical cert form? It’s usually your doctor that fills out that form, including dates like start date, duration, etc.

      Feel free to email me directly at kiks16 at gmail.com!

      Like

  11. Yex says:

    What happens if you are having a natural birth, let’s say I am due Sep 1….and decide to take 4 weeks before. But my baby does not come until Sep 7. How is that extra week pre-birth calculated? Since in reality I would end up taking 5 weeks instead of 4 due to the late delivery.

    Like

  12. Lizzie says:

    Hi, thanks for breaking this down for all of us! You’re website is super helpful, but I still have one more questions. I know that it take one week for SDI to kick in. Instead of taking 4 weeks before my due date I am only taking 2 weeks. Does this mean I will only get paid for one of these weeks? Or does it just take a week to get paid and then I get paid for both of those 2 weeks before my due date? Also how often do you get paid by the state? Is it every 2 weeks? Thanks!

    Like

    • Hi Lizzie, thanks for your comment. Great to hear the blog has been helpful for you!

      If you take 2 weeks before your due date, your SDI payments will begin on the second week or once the seven day waiting period has been served. Therefore, the first week is unpaid. So to answer your question, of the two weeks you take before your due date, only one will be paid. However, you are able to supplement pay while you serve your waiting period by using vacation, sick, or PTO hours.

      I got my SDI payments every week. They typically send you an EDD debit card in the mail, and the state automatically transfers funds into the account on a weekly basis.

      Hope this helps!

      Like

  13. Katy says:

    Hi Akiko,

    Thank you for such a helpful website! I do have one question– do you know for scheduled c-section moms, for CA state disability do we get 4 weeks before the due date or 4 weeks before the scheduled surgery? I’m scheduled to deliver at 39 weeks, so if it’s 4 weeks before due date, I would essentially only get 3 weeks of disability!

    Thanks,
    Katy

    Like

    • Hi Katy, Glad to hear that info is helpful!

      You would need to discuss your disability start date with your doctor. Based on your personal situation in regards to your pregnancy, your doc will determine the best disability start date for you. The 4 weeks before the due date is just the most typical scenario that doctors normally approve for women who have uncomplicated pregnancies.

      Talk to your doctor. Let he/she know that you would like to take 4 weeks before your scheduled C-section to rest physically from work and other physical demands. More than likely, he/she will approve.

      Hope that helps!

      Like

  14. Michelle says:

    Hi Thanks! This post is great. I work in California and my HR is in Massachusetts. They gave me everything for FMLA and SDI however I’ve been waiting over two weeks for my CFRA application. I go on leave on Nov 1. Do I have to get my CFRA in before I leave? Should I communicate with them I’m taking 22 weeks job protected leave (FMLA/CFRA) and expect eventually they’ll give me my CFRA application? Thanks!!!!

    Like

  15. Kat says:

    Hi, I know it has been awhile since you have posted this. Everything I am reading is the FMLA and CFRA run concurrently after delivery. Which means per your chart that you would lose 6 weeks. FMLA will run out at the same spot, but CFRA will also start at the birth week. Do you have a link to information that is different? Thank you for taking the time to explain.

    Like

    • Leave taken by an employee under CFRA runs concurrently with FMLA leave, EXCEPT when leave is taken under FMLA for disability due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. This is because CFRA specifically excludes leave taken for disability due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions as a “serious health condition.” So, you are entitled to FMLA to cover your “serious medical condition” (aka pregnancy), PLUS CFRA leave to bond with your baby. CFRA regulation 11093 b defines this: “(b) Serious Health Condition – Pregnancy.
      An employee’s own disability due to pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition is not included as a serious health condition under CFRA. Any period of incapacity or treatment due to pregnancy, including prenatal care, is included as a serious health condition under FMLA. (source: https://govt.westlaw.com/calregs/Document/I19453E650130442088A35E4813E150A5?viewType=FullText&originationContext=documenttoc&transitionType=CategoryPageItem&contextData=(sc.Default))

      Here are some documents that explain this further.
      – “A pregnancy/childbirth-related disability leave will be deducted from an employee’s FMLA (12) leave entitlement. The CFRA entitles employees to an additional twelve weeks of bonding leave. (source: https://www.documents.dgs.ca.gov/ohr/supervisor/dgsfmlapolicyprocedures.pdf)

      – Under CFRA, “Family care and medical leave” is defined to include leave because of an employee’s own serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position of that employee, “except for leave taken for disability on account of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.” Further, under section (s) it states that “Leave taken by an employee pursuant to this section shall run concurrently with leave taken pursuant to the FMLA, except for any leave taken under the FMLA for disability on account of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” The aggregate amount of leave taken under this section or the FMLA, or both, except for leave taken for disability on account of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, shall not exceed 12 workweeks in a 12-month period. An employee is entitled to take, in addition to the leave provided for under this section and the FMLA, the leave provided for in Section 12945, if the employee is otherwise qualified for that leave. (source: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=GOV&sectionNum=12945.2)

      Like

  16. Larissa says:

    Hi I’ve had to go out of work on early maternity leave for bed rest (about 4 months early.) My employer is saying that I have to start my baby bonding time as of 12/1/17 even though my due date is not until 12/5/17. Is that legal? Also how can I start baby bonding if I’m not even recovered from my c section for 8 weeks. What if my doctor says I need more recovery time? They are essentially giving me 4 weeks of baby bonding. Also am I still able to be on disability after my 8 weeks of recovery if I need more recovery time for a pregnancy related issue? And then start my baby bonding after I’ve been medically deemed recovered?

    Like

  17. Sher says:

    I filed for Edd already and my doc sent in the medical provider portion yet Ed online still says “Pending medical provider form” 8 days later…. Is this typical? How long until you received payment?

    Like

    • Yes, this can be typical. I wouldn’t worry yet. It can take a couple of days for EDD to update your account even if they have the medical certificate, so give it a couple more days. It can take about 1-3 weeks to receive your first payment once your claim is approved.

      Like

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