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 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!