California Short-Term Disability Overview

California provides paid time off for parenting and pregnancy leave.

California is one of the few states that has a short-term disability insurance (SDI) program for employees. Many people refer to this program as temporary disability insurance (TDI); in California, it's the same thing.

Employees fund the short-term disability program through payroll deductions and can receive benefits when they are temporarily unable to work due to disability, including pregnancy. California's Employment Development department (EDD) also provides for 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 does not provide long-term disability insurance; if you are disabled for a year or more, you can apply for Social Security disability 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.

Who Is Eligible for SDI in California?

An employee is eligible for SDI if the employee is unable to work due to a disability and has lost income as a result. Employees are eligible only if they have 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 the employee filed a claim. For example, if the employee files a claim in April 2018, the base period is 2017.

Note that you cannot collect SDI and temporary disability benefits from California's workers' compensation program at the same time.

How Do I File for California Short-Term Disability?

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.
  • Complete a seven-day waiting period, for which benefits are not paid.
  • File a medical certificate of disability signed by a duly authorized medical or religious practitioner (this is part of the claim form).

You may be contacted by the EDD if they have any questions about your claim.

How Much Does SDI Pay in California?

If the EDD determines that you are eligible for SDI, you will generally receive benefits every two weeks. Your benefit amount will depend on how much you were earning during the base period. SDI pays about 55% of the wages you received during your highest-paid calendar quarter of the base period. This amount is not subject to tax, so what you receive will be more than 55% of your usual take-home pay. If you receive any earnings while you are on SDI, that amount will be subtracted from your benefits.

California Paid Family Leave

As noted above, California employees may also receive benefits for time off spent caring for a seriously ill family member or bonding with a new child. The requirements for receiving paid family leave (PFL) are similar to the rules for receiving SDI for a disability. In 2017, you must be off work for a seven-day waiting period before you'll receive paid leave benefits, and your benefits will generally be 55% of your earnings in the highest-paid quarter of the base period. PFL is available for a maximum of six weeks. In 2018, the seven-day waiting period is going away, and workers will be paid 60-70% of their average wages, depending on their income level.

    Pregnancy Disability Law 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.

    Pregnancy Disability Leave Law

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

    California's pregnancy disability leave law requires employers 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.

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

    Family Medical Leave

    Both federal and California law 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; for the employee to care for a family member with a serious health condition; or to bond with a new child, among other reasons.

    Although the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) covers time taken off due to pregnancy, California's Family Rights Act does not. For California employees, this creates a right to more time off. Employees are entitled to time off while they are unable to work due to pregnancy or childbirth under California's pregnancy disability leave law, discussed above. Once the employee is able to work, she can begin using her Family Rights Act leave for parenting—and she will still have a full 12-weeks of leave to take off. California is more generous than other states in this regard.

      Getting Legal Help

      Filing a claim for temporary disability benefits is not 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.

      However, you should consider talking to an attorney if your employer is not cooperating in giving you the time off you need or if you are uncertain of your leave rights or how the various leave laws work together. California has a number of leave laws: Not only does it 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 may not be—or may 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 right away.

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