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.