Maternity and Parental Leave and Paid Time Off for Pregnancy in California

Employers must provide maternity leave, paternity leave, and paid time off for pregnancy and parenting in California.

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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 enacted several additional laws providing both paid and unpaid time off for employees welcoming a new child.

How Long Is Maternity Leave in California?

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. Then you can take 12 weeks of baby-bonding leave under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), for a total of almost seven months. We'll explain the pregnancy disability leave law and the baby-bonding leave law below.

What Maternity and Parental Leave Does the CFRA Provide?

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.

For women, this leave is usually referred to as maternity leave, and for men, it's called paternity leave. If both parents work for the same employer, each parent is entitled to take up to 12 weeks' leave under the CFRA (prior to 2021, two parents had 12 weeks' leave to share).

The CFRA applies if:

  • you have a new child (by birth, adoption, or foster care placement)
  • you have worked for your employer for at least one year
  • you have worked at least 1,250 hours during the last year, and
  • your employer has at least five employees.

During your leave, your employer must continue to provide you with any health care benefits you were receiving before your leave. Your employer must continue to pay for the same portion of your health coverage as usual, and you will 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.

How Much Leave Does the Pregnancy Disability Leave Provide?

California has a Pregnancy Disability Leave law (PDL) that will kick in if you're unable to work due to your pregnancy. PDL allows you to take up to four months of unpaid time off. This time off is not simply for pregnancy: Your doctor must determine that you are incapable of doing at least one essential job task due to your pregnancy.

Pregnancy-related disabilities that typically qualify for pregnancy leave include:

  • severe morning sickness
  • preeclampsia
  • gestational diabetes
  • prenatal and postnatal care
  • miscarriage
  • postpartum depression, or
  • other health conditions requiring bed rest.

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 leave law requires that your position be held for up to four months while you are off work. This time off is in addition to the 12 weeks of parenting leave available under the CFRA and any extra reasonable accommodation leave, which means you could be eligible for at least seven months off, depending on how long you are physically unable to work.

What Is Reasonable Accommodation Leave?

If you've completed your four months of pregnancy disability leave, you're still entitled to reasonable accommodations for your pregnancy disability, which may mean you need 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. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees as long as the accommodations don't cause undue hardship to the employer.

Pregnancy disability leave is one such accommodation; other accommodations include things like:

  • providing additional breaks during the workday
  • modifying your work duties to accommodate a lifting restriction
  • allowing you to work more flexible hours due to morning sickness, or
  • providing additional "reasonable accommodation leave" at the end of PDL.

Is Maternity or Parental Leave Paid in California?

The types of leave discussed above are all forms of unpaid leave. California is one of the few states that offer some paid leave benefits for employees who want to take time off work to bond with a new child or are temporarily unable to work due to disability.

California's short-term disability insurance (SDI) program pays a portion of your usual wages while you are temporarily disabled, including by pregnancy and childbirth. The money is paid from a state fund, which is replenished by payroll withholding from your paycheck.

Through the same program, California has a paid family leave (PFL) program, which provides up to eight weeks of partial wage replacement for parents who take time off to bond with a new child.

How Can I Request Maternity, Parental, or Pregnancy Leave?

To request parental leave or pregnancy leave, you should provide your employer with 30 days' notice, if possible. The method for requesting leave will depend on your employer. Some employers require notice to be in writing, while for others oral notice is sufficient.

To request PDL, you might also need to provide your employer with a medical certification from your health care provider.

Can Employees Be Fired for Requesting Parental Leave?

It's illegal for employers to demote, fire, refuse to hire, or discriminate against someone in any other way because of:

  • pregnancy
  • childbirth
  • a related condition, or
  • being a new parent.

The law provides two exceptions to this rule:

  • Small employers: Employers with less than five workers are not covered by California parental leave or pregnancy disability laws and may fire or demote employees for taking leave.
  • Ineligible workers: Workers who aren't yet eligible for parental leave can be fired or demoted for taking it. This includes employees who have worked for their employer for less than a year or less than 1,250 hours in the prior 12 months. This exception applies only to leave under the CFRA, not to PDL.

What Happened to the New Parent Leave Act?

California repealed the New Parent Leave Act in 2020 and incorporated its provisions into the California Family Rights Act.

Should I Contact an Employment Lawyer?

If you believe you've been discriminated against due to your pregnancy or have been improperly denied parental leave or reinstatement, an experienced employment lawyer can help. The first step is submitting a claim to California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing. If the agency is unable to resolve the dispute, a lawyer can file a lawsuit against your employer on your behalf.

Updated May 4, 2022

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