California Short-Term Disability Overview

California provides paid time off for disability and pregnancy leave through its short-term disability insurance (SDI) program.

By , J.D., UC Berkeley School of Law

California is one of a handful of states that have a short-term disability insurance (SDI) program for employees. Employees fund the short-term disability program through payroll deductions and can receive benefits when they're temporarily unable to work due to disability, including pregnancy.

Some people refer to this program as temporary disability insurance (TDI); in California, SDI and TDI are the same thing. California's Employment Development Department (EDD) also provides paid family leave for employees who need time off to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a new child.

(Note that the State of California doesn't provide long-term disability insurance; if you're disabled for a year or more, you can apply for Social Security disability benefits or make a claim through an employer-provided long-term disability policy, if you have one.)

Short-Term Disability Insurance in California

Most California employers are required to participate in the state's short-term disability insurance program, so most employees are eligible for SDI, as well as independent contractors who pay into the elective coverage program.

Who Is Eligible for SDI in California?

You're medically eligible for SDI if you're unable to work due to a disability and have lost income as a result. But the first seven days of your time off work is a waiting period, and you won't get paid for those days. The EDD uses this "SDI elimination period" to make sure that only employees who are seriously ill or injured can collect from the SDI program.

You're technically eligible for SDI if you've received at least $300 in wages, from which SDI taxes were withheld, during the base period. The base period is a one-year period, usually ending just before the last complete calendar quarter before you filed a claim. For example, if you file a claim in April 2023, the base period is all of 2022. Read more in our article on eligibility for SDI in California.

How Long Does Short-Term Disability Last in California?

California will pay short-term disability payments for up to 52 weeks for most employees, if they remain unable to work for that long. But self-employed people can receive benefits for only 39 weeks (if they have paid into the SDI system).

Note that you can't collect SDI payments and any of the following at the same time:

  • unemployment benefits
  • paid family leave benefits, or
  • temporary disability benefits from California's workers' compensation program.

How Much Does SDI Pay in California?

If the EDD determines that you're eligible for SDI, you'll receive benefits every two weeks. Your benefit amount will depend on how much you were earning during the base period. SDI pays 60-70% of the wages you received during your highest-paid calendar quarter of the base period, depending on your income level. But this amount isn't subject to tax, so what you receive should be more than 60-70% of your usual take-home pay.

If you receive any earnings while you're on SDI, the EDD will subtract that amount from your benefits. Learn more in our article on figuring out your CA SDI benefit.

How Do I File for California Short-Term Disability?

The EDD now offers online filing or paper filing. Submitting the claim for temporary disability benefits isn't difficult. Typically, your employer or your healthcare provider (particularly if you are part of an HMO) will provide you with the paperwork; your healthcare provider will have to complete part of the form.

To collect short-term disability benefits, you must:

  • File a claim with the state's Employment Development Department (EDD). You must do this within seven weeks of becoming unable to work, or you might lose the right to benefits, and
  • File a medical certificate of disability signed by a duly authorized medical or religious practitioner (this is part of the claim form).

Most SDI payments are started within two weeks of submitting a claim. You may be contacted by the EDD if they have any questions about your claim.

California Paid Family Leave

California employees can also receive cash benefits for time off spent caring for a seriously ill family member or bonding with a new child through the paid family leave (PFL) program. The requirements for receiving PFL are similar to the rules for receiving SDI for a disability: You no longer must be off work for a seven-day waiting period before you'll receive paid leave benefits.

Like SDI, your benefits will generally be 60-70% of your earnings in the highest-paid quarter of the base period. Low-income workers receive a higher percentage of their wages, but most employees get 60%.

But PFL is available for a maximum of eight weeks. Read more about it in Nolo's article on California's paid family leave (PFL) program.

    Pregnancy Disability Laws in California

    California's SDI program also covers employees who are temporarily unable to work due to pregnancy and childbirth. The usual period of disability recognized by the SDI program for a normal pregnancy begins four weeks before the birth of a child and extends to six weeks after the birth of the child. Additional weeks can be granted with proper physician certification in cases of difficult pregnancies or C-sections.

    Pregnancy Disability Leave Law

    In addition to allowing employees to collect SDI benefits during pregnancy, California law prohibits discrimination against pregnant employees. The law requires employers to allow employees to take pregnancy disability leave for the period of time they are unable to work due to pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions. This right to leave applies whether or not the employee is collecting SDI benefits.

    Note that this disability leave is not "maternity" leave. In other words, employers don't have to provide time off under this law for an employee to spend with a new child, if the employee is once again able to work. But parental leave may be available under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and California's Family Rights Act (see our article on California maternity leave for more information).

    California's pregnancy disability leave law requires employers with at least five employees to allow employees to take up to four months off for disability relating to pregnancy and childbirth. This leave need not be paid, but the employee may use any accrued paid leave she has available.

    Family Medical Leave

    Both federal and California laws require covered employers to provide family and medical leave for eligible employees. These laws require employers to provide up to 12 weeks off in a 12-month period for:

    • the employee's own serious health condition
    • the employee to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or
    • to bond with a new child.

    Although the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) includes the time taken off due to pregnancy, California's Family Rights Act (CFRA) does not. For California employees, this creates a right to more time off.

    Employees are entitled to time off while they're unable to work due to pregnancy or childbirth under California's pregnancy disability leave law, discussed above. Once an employee is able to work, they can begin using CFRA leave for parenting—and they will still have a full 12 weeks of leave to take off. California is more generous than other states in this regard.

      What to Do If Your Employer Isn't Cooperating

      Consider talking to an attorney if your employer isn't cooperating in giving you the time off you need or if you're uncertain of your leave rights or how the various leave laws work together. California has a number of leave laws: Not only does the state provide paid disability benefits for pregnant employees, but it also has separate laws providing for pregnancy disability leave and family leave. In addition, the federal FMLA may apply to your situation.

      The result of so many leave laws is that employees have a lot of protection—but it can get confusing to figure out which laws apply to your situation.

      Even if you are clear on your leave rights, your employer might not be—or might not wish to honor them. If you believe your employer is discriminating against you based on your pregnancy, denying you time off to which you are legally entitled, or trying to intimidate or discourage you from taking all time available to you, speak to an experienced disability or employment lawyer.

      Updated September 21, 2023

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