California's pregnancy, maternity, and parental leave laws are among the best in the nation. While employees in many states must rely solely on the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), California has laws that provide for job-protected unpaid and paid time off for employees welcoming a new child.
First, let's talk about when your job is protected during leave, and then we'll talk about how you can get paid during maternity or pregnancy leave in California.
California has two laws that protect your job when you take time off to have a baby:
Under the PDL, you can take up to four months of pregnancy disability leave as long as you're disabled for that long, either before or after childbirth, or both. And you don't have to take your pregnancy disability leave all at once. The PDL law allows you to use this leave intermittently if you need to.
After using your pregnancy disability leave, you can take an additional 12 weeks of baby-bonding leave under the CFRA. Under these two laws, pregnancy and maternity leave can last up to about seven months in total.
The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) provides most employees in California with the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work to bond with a new child (or to recover from a serious health condition). This "baby-bonding leave" applies to male, female, transgender, and nonbinary parents and includes adoptive parents, foster parents, and same-sex parents. (Cal. Gov. Code § 12945.2 and 2 CCR § 11090).)
For women, this leave is usually referred to as maternity leave, and for men, it's generally called paternity leave. If both parents work for the same employer, each parent is entitled to take up to 12 weeks of leave under the CFRA (they don't have to share the 12 weeks of parenting leave as they do under the FMLA).
You're covered by the CFRA if:
During your leave, your employer must continue to provide you with any health care benefits you were receiving before your leave. (Cal. Gov. Code § 12945(a)(2)(A).) Your employer must continue to pay for the same portion of your health coverage as usual, and you'll be required to pay your usual portion of the premiums.
When you return to work from CFRA leave, you're entitled to the same or a similar job as you had before you left. (2 CCR § 11089.)
California's Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) law kicks in when you can't work due to your pregnancy. PDL allows you to take up to four months of unpaid time off per pregnancy. (Cal. Gov. Code § 12945(a)(1) and 2 CCR § 11042(a).)
But you can't take leave under the PDL just because you're pregnant. Your doctor must determine that because of your pregnancy, you can't perform at least one of the essential functions of your job—or you can't perform a function without risk to you or your pregnancy. (2 CCR 11035(f).)
Pregnancy-related disabilities that typically qualify for pregnancy leave include:
The only eligibility requirements for receiving pregnancy leave are that you have a pregnancy-related disability and your employer has five or more employees. You qualify even if you work part-time or were hired only recently.
The pregnancy disability leave law requires that your position be held for up to four months while you're off work. (2 CCR § 11043.) This time off is in addition to the 12 weeks of parenting leave available under the CFRA and any extra "reasonable accommodation leave" you might take.
Both federal and state anti-discrimination laws require California employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees who need them because of pregnancy. Even if you've completed your four months of pregnancy disability leave (PDL), you're still entitled to reasonable accommodations for your pregnancy disability—which might include taking additional time off.
A reasonable accommodation is a change in your work environment or the way you do your job to make it more suitable for your pregnancy disability. California law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees as long as the accommodations don't cause "undue hardship" for the business. (Cal. Gov. Code § 12940) and 2 CCR § 11040.)
Under state law, reasonable accommodations can include things like:
The federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) also gives pregnant employees the right to reasonable accommodations at work. The PWFA requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide accommodations unless doing so would create an undue hardship for the business. (42 U.S.C. § 2000gg-1.) Time off work can be a reasonable accommodation under the law.
(Also, learn about your accommodation rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).)
The types of leave discussed above are all forms of job-protected unpaid leave. But California is one of the few states that offer paid leave benefits when you:
California's short-term disability insurance (SDI) program pays a portion of your usual wages while you're temporarily disabled due to pregnancy and childbirth. You can receive benefits for up to 52 weeks (or 39 weeks if you're self-employed). The SDI program is funded by employee contributions (through payroll withholding). Read more about California's short-term disability insurance program.
The California Employment Development Department (EDD) operates the state SDI program and California's paid family leave (PFL) program. Eligible employees can get up to eight weeks of partial wage replacement when they take time off to bond with a new child. Read more about California's paid family leave program.
California's SDI and PFL programs pay the same weekly benefit amount, about 60-70% of the wages you earned during your base period—up to the annual maximum benefit amount ($1,620 per week for 2023). Your base period is your highest earning quarter, 5 to 18 months before your leave starts.
California has an online calculator you can use to estimate your benefit amount. Keep in mind that SDI and PFL benefits aren't taxed in California, so your weekly benefit amount could be higher than your regular take-home pay.
(Learn more about what can affect your California SDI and PFL benefit amount.)
To request parental or pregnancy leave, you should give your employer at least 30 days' notice, if possible. The method for requesting leave will depend on your employer. Some employers require written notice, while for others, oral notice is sufficient.
To request leave under the Pregnancy Disability Leave law and the CFRA, you may need to provide your employer with a medical certification from your or your spouse's health care provider. (2 CCR § 11050(b).) The same is true for the SDI and PFL programs.
It's illegal for employers to demote, fire, refuse to hire, or discriminate against someone in any other way because of:
The law provides two exceptions to this rule:
California repealed the New Parent Leave Act in 2020 and incorporated its provisions into the California Family Rights Act. The Family Rights Act is like California's version of the federal FMLA.
What if you've been discriminated against due to your pregnancy or improperly denied parental leave or reinstatement after PDL or CFRA leave? You might benefit from talking with an experienced employment discrimination lawyer. A lawyer can review your situation and confirm whether your employer acted improperly.
But the first step is to submit a claim to California's Civil Rights Department (CRD). If the agency can't resolve the dispute, your employment lawyer can file a lawsuit against your employer on your behalf.
Learn more about hiring and paying for an employment discrimination lawyer.
Updated September 21, 2023