Do I Qualify for California State Disability Insurance (SDI)?

Here are the California employees who are and aren't eligible for benefits from the state's disability insurance (SDI) program.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

California is one of a handful of states that has a paid short-term disability program. This program, which is funded by employee contributions made through payroll withholding, pays employees a portion of their usual wages while they're temporarily unable to work due to disability.

Most California employees qualify for disability benefits through this program, as long as they meet the state's eligibility requirements. If you meet these requirements and file the necessary paperwork, you'll receive benefit payments every two weeks until you're able to return to work.

Eligibility for California Short-Term Disability Insurance (SDI)

To receive benefits through California's SDI program, you must meet all of the following requirements:

  • You must be unable to do your regular work for at least eight consecutive days. (There is a seven-day waiting period, during which you can't collect benefits. On the eighth day, you become eligible for SDI.)
  • You must have lost wages because of your disability. For example, if your employer moves you to a light-duty position and continues paying you the same amount, you won't collect any benefits.
  • You must have earned at least $300, from which state disability insurance deductions were withheld, during your "base period" (more on this below).
  • You must be under the care and treatment of a licensed doctor or accredited religious practitioner for your disability.
  • You must have been either employed or actively looking for work at the time you became disabled.

What Is Your Base Period?

Your base period is the 12-month period that ended just before the last complete calendar quarter you worked before becoming disabled. For example, if you become disabled in April, May, or June of 2024, the last complete calendar you could have worked is January through March of 2024. So your base period would be the 12-month period before that, or January 1, 2023 through December 31, 2023. You must have earned at least $300 in wages in this base period to qualify for SDI.

Who Isn't Eligible for SDI?

There are a number of reasons why an applicant may not qualify for California's SDI benefits. You won't be eligible in these circumstances:

  • You aren't actually suffering a loss of income. For instance, if you're taking PTO at the same time, you might not have any wage loss to be made up by SDI benefits (more on this below).
  • You're currently claiming or receiving Paid Family Leave or Unemployment Insurance benefits.
  • You became disabled while committing a crime resulting in a felony conviction.
  • You're in jail, prison, recovery home, or any other place because you were convicted of a crime.
  • You're receiving Workers' Compensation benefits at a weekly rate equal to or greater than the SDI rate.
  • You failed to go to a requested independent medical examination.

If you're collecting any of the following benefits during your time off work, you may not qualify for SDI benefits:

  • accrued sick time
  • paid time off (PTO) that's intended to cover all reasons for time off, or
  • paid disability leave through your employer's short-term or long-term disability insurance policy.

But if the amount of money you receive under one of the above benefits is less than what you would receive in SDI, California's Economic Development Department (EDD) will pay you the difference.

How Much Will You Receive?

California's SDI program pays approximately 60-70% of your usual wages, depending on your income, up to a cap. SDI is not subject to tax, so no withholding will be taken from the payment. In 2023, the cap is $1,620.

The amount of your "usual" wages isn't necessarily the amount you were earning just before becoming disabled. Instead, California calculates benefits using the base period (explained above). Your benefits will be based on the quarter with the highest income during your base period.

For more information, see our article on how to calculate your short-term disability benefit in California.

How to File a Claim

It isn't difficult to file an SDI claim in California. You must complete and submit or mail a claim form within 49 days of the date you became disabled. (If more than 49 days have elapsed, attach a letter to the application form explaining why you're filing late.)

Usually, your employer or your health care practitioner will provide the paper form; you can also get a copy at the website of the state's Economic Development Department (EDD). You must complete part of the form and your health care practitioner must complete the rest.

You can also file a claim online by creating an account at myEDD. You'll then register as an SDI "claimant" and start a new claim for "DI" (disability insurance) benefits. Make sure you have your employer's contact information, the last date you worked, and any wages or income you received after you stopped working.

If you're filing an SDI claim online, you then give your receipt number to your health care professional, who can fill in the medical certification through SDI online.

Who Can Medically Certify the SDI Claim?

Your doctor, chiropractor, optometrist, or podiatrist must complete the part of the form that provides medical certification of your disability.

A licensed midwife, nurse-midwife, or nurse practitioner may also complete the medical certification for disabilities related to normal pregnancy or childbirth. For other types of claims, a nurse practitioner or physician's assistant (PA) must collaborate with a doctor before signing the form.

What Happens Next?

The EDD may call you or otherwise contact you if it has any questions. The agency will also contact your employer to find out your wages and other information. If the EDD determines that you're eligible for benefits, the agency will send you a notice informing you of your eligibility, your projected SDI benefit amount, and when your benefits will begin.

If you're approved, you'll receive your first benefit payment no more than two weeks after you submit your claim. And you'll receive benefits approximately every two weeks after that. Currently, the EDD provides benefits through a bank debit card.

Updated September 22, 2023

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