Using Sick, Vacation and PTO during maternity leave

It’s no secret that you’re going to try to stretch out every last minute and dollar out of your maternity leave. No shame in that game! One obvious method is to utilize any of your accrued sick, vacation, or PTO time to offset the reduction in pay. There are restrictions and regulations to doing this, so read on for more knowledge.

NOTE: The following applies to usage of sick, vacation and PTO while you are receiving wage replacements from State Disability Insurance (SDI) and Paid Family Leave (PFL). 

Sick Leave

The EDD treats sick leave as wages earned, so you can’t receive SDI or PFL benefits for any time you are receiving sick leave wages that are equivalent to your full salary. 

But wait, there’s a caveat to this! You can coordinate or integrate a portion of sick leave pay to make up the difference between the SDI/PFL benefit amount and your normal full wage. So, by combining 45% of sick leave with the 55% SDI/PFL benefit, you can theoretically get 100% of your normal gross weekly wages for the benefit period, or up until you’ve exhausted your accrued sick time. Here’s an example provided by the EDD:

An employee’s current gross weekly wage is $500. The weekly benefit amount from PFL is $275 [note: 55% of $500]. The $500 minus $275 equals a $225 per week wage loss. Consequently, the employer can integrate/coordinate a maximum amount of $225 per week in gross wages to the employee, resulting in the employee receiving the equivalent of his/her normal weekly gross pay.

Integrating/coordinating your sick leave will not affect your eligibility for SDI or PFL benefits. If you and your employer decide to go this route, your HR rep must notify the EDD that only 45% of wages are being paid, otherwise you may be denied benefits.

Vacation Leave

Vacation pay is not in conflict with SDI benefits, so your employer can pay you vacation time while receiving SDI benefits at the same time.

Vacation pay is also not in conflict with PFL benefits, but the rules are a bit fuzzier here as regulations have recently changed. The law used to give an employer the option to require you to take up to two weeks of earned but unused vacation leave before receiving PFL benefits.

However, an update to the CFRA law (as of July 1, 2015) states that, “an employee receiving Paid Family Leave to care for the serious health condition of a family member or to bond with a new child is not on “unpaid leave,” and, therefore, an employer may not require the employee to use paid time off, sick leave, or accrued vacation.” Since there is no 7-day waiting period for new mothers transitioning from SDI benefits to PFL, that means you are immediately starting paid CFRA leave, and therefore, according to the updated law you should not be required to use vacation, sick or PTO time before starting PFL.

Paid Time Off

While receiving SDI or PFL, PTO pay is considered the same as sick leave wages, if the payments are made as a replacement for sick leave when you’re out on leave.

This means that if you just accrue PTO, as opposed to sick and vacation time, then the only way to utilize PTO to offset pay reduction is to integrate/coordinate it with your SDI/PFL benefits.

Vacation/PTO/Sick Usage Situations

So, now that we’ve gone over how we can use vacation, sick and PTO time, let’s discuss common usage situations.

Unpaid CFRA time: In most traditional maternity leave scenarios (aka uncomplicated pregnancy with vaginal delivery), you’ll get partial pay for 16 out of the 22 weeks of maternity leave via SDI and PFL benefits (see timeline below). [Check out this post for a thorough overview on maternity leave].

FMLA/CFRA Eligible Maternity Leave

FMLA/CFRA Eligible Maternity Leave

As you can see from the timeline, the last 6 weeks of CFRA are unpaid. So, what to do? According to CFRA laws, you can chose (or an employer may require you) to use any accrued vacation time or PTO time during the unpaid portion of the CFRA leave. You can use sick leave during this time only if the leave is for your own serious health condition or any other reason mutually agreed between you and your employer.

7-day waiting period: There’s a mandatory 7-day unpaid waiting period that you have to serve before receiving SDI benefits. (Benefits are paid once the waiting period has been completed and all other eligibility criteria are met.) During the non-payable waiting period, you are allowed to utilize any form of wages paid by employer (sick, PTO, vacation, etc) to make up for the loss of wages. As mentioned above, there is no additional seven-day waiting period for a PFL claim to bond with a newborn when the PFL claim follows the DI pregnancy-related claim.

How did I navigate the system, you ask?

I was able to coordinate/integrate over 100 hours of accrued PTO (my company only did PTO; no separate vacation or sick time) with 160 hours of company-sponsored leave pay (company perk), giving me full pay for about 14 weeks, 6 weeks partial pay, and 4 weeks unpaid during my 24-week maternity leave. Not too shabby, right?

How did you utilize your sick, vacation and PTO time during your maternity leave? Tell us about it in the comments.

Which family members do FMLA and CFRA cover?

Super basic question, but I’ve yet to find a simple, easy-to-read answer on the World Wide Web. So, here ya’ go!

FMLA and CFRA both cover the following:

  • Spouses:
    • Husbands and wives
    • Legal, same-sex married couples. As of March 27, 2015, those in legal, same-sex marriages – regardless of where they live – have the same rights as those in opposite-sex marriages to federal job-protected leave under FMLA and CFRA.
  • Sons or daughters:
    • Biological child
    • Adopted child
    • Foster child
    • Stepchild
    • Legal ward
    • Child of a person standing in loco parentis, who is either under age 18, or age 18 or older and “incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability.” Loco parentis is defined as someone with the day-to-day responsibilities to care for and financially support a child, or, in the case of an employee, who had such responsibility for the employee when the employee was a child. A biological or legal relationship is not necessary.
  • Parents:
    • Biological
    • Adoptive
    • Step
    • Foster father or mother
    • Any other individual who stood in loco parentis to the employee when he/she was a child. This does not include in-laws.

Additional coverage under CFRA is registered domestic partnerships. Effective July 1, 2015, CFRA leave may be taken to care for the serious health condition of a registered domestic partner, as defined by Family Code sections 297 through 297.5. If you live in California, where the FMLA law and the CFRA law differ, the most generous/less restrictive leave provisions must be applied. 

Additionally, there are couple other bonus coverage areas under California’s Paid Family Leave (PFL) that are worth noting. In July 2014, PFL was expanded to also cover siblings, grandparents, grandchildren and parent in-laws. Under the law, the term “sibling” is defined as “a person related to another person by blood, adoption, or affinity through a common legal or biological parent,” and “parent-in-law” is defined to include the parent of a spouse or domestic partner. Do remember though that PFL only provides partial wage replacement – and does NOT provide job security. So, if you’re thinking of taking leave to care for a sibling, grandparent, grandchild or an in-law, be sure to talk to your employer about job security.

You never know what kind of curve balls life will throw at you. I do feel some relief that federal and state leave benefits extend out to family – blood and non-blood – members. [Cue music!…]

Have you taken leave for an extended family member? Tell us about it in the comments below.

 

Common Maternity Leave Questions

Oh, maternity leave: the never ending abyss of questions and uncertainty. If you’re just starting to navigate the maternity leave waters check out my previous post on how to Milk Your Benefits. After reading about California maternity leave and you’ve found yourself like this, you’re not alone….

confused-britney

To help ease the process a bit, I’ve listed some of the most common questions I’ve been seeing in various “mommy” forums.

1) Can you accrue vacation days while on maternity leave? Typically, no – vacation and sick accrual usually stops when you start your leave. A company may chose to continue sick/vacation/PTO accrual as a benefit, but that is up to the company. Definitely something to confirm when you first talk to HR about your maternity leave benefits.

2) Will I still get health insurance through my company while I’m leave? Yes, you are entitled to the continuation of health benefits through your employer for the entire duration of your leave, up to four months. However, depending on your employer’s policy, you may be responsible to pay the monthly premium. This amount is usually the amount you are paying each paycheck, but get that confirmed with HR too as they may cover some or all of the premium.

3) What’s the best way to fill out the EDD forms? In California, you can file claims for both SDI and Paid Family leave via the SDI Online system.

4) How does my doctor submit the medical portion of the SDI claim? If you submit the SDI claim online, you will be given a Form Receipt Number (FRN) which you have to provide to your doctor. They will then use your FRN to file the physician certificate online (or by mail). IMPORTANT NOTE: Filing online does NOT automatically kick things over to your doctor, you must notify your doc of your Form Receipt Number. Also, your SDI claim is not complete until the EDD gets the certification from your doctor.

5) If I work up until my baby is born will I get more time with my baby? No. Under the Pregnancy Disability state law, most doctors will certify a pregnancy disability leave of 10-12 weeks for a normal pregnancy — 4 weeks before childbirth and 6 weeks after a vaginal delivery (or 8 weeks after delivery by cesarean section). This means that regardless of when you give birth you are either allotted 6 or 8 weeks after birth (then you can 12 weeks of CFRA if you wish. More info on that here). So, my tip: If you can afford it (you will be paid 55% of your weekly wages under State Disability Insurance), definitely take some time before the baby is born to relax and get things organized since it is a “if you don’t use it; you lose it” situation.

I’ll continue to post common questions as I see them. In the meantime, if you have any questions send them my way by commenting below.

Happy Maternity Leave!