Update: California has changed some rules to make it easier for those affected by coronavirus to get SDI benefits. If you are off work due to COVID-19 illness or exposure, see our article on changes to California's SDI program for coronavirus.
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 are 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 will receive benefit payments, generally every two weeks, until you are able to return to work.
To receive benefits, you must meet all of the following requirements:
There are a number of reasons why an applicant may not be eligible for SDI benefits. You won’t be eligible in these circumstances:
It isn’t difficult to file an SDI claim in California. Usually, the employer or the employee’s health care practitioner will provide the 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. Once the form is complete, you submit it to the EDD; you must submit the form within 49 days after becoming disabled, or you might not receive any benefits.
The EDD may call you or otherwise contact you if it has any questions. It will also contact your employer to find out your wages and other information. If the EDD determines that you are eligible, it will send you a notice informing you of your eligibility, your projected benefit amount, and when your benefits will begin. You will receive benefits approximately every two weeks; currently, the EDD provides benefits through a bank debit card.
California’s SDI program pays approximately 60-70% of your usual wages, depending on your income, up to a cap. This amount is not subject to tax, so no withholding will be taken from the payment. In 2020, the cap is $1,300.
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.” In most cases, this is the 12-month period ending just before the last complete calendar quarter you worked before becoming disabled. For example, if you became disabled in August of 2019, the base period would be April 1, 2018 through March 31, 2019. You must have earned at least $300 in wages in this base period.
You will be paid about 60-70% of the wages you received during the highest-paid quarter of your base period. For more information, see our article on how to calculate your short-term disability benefits in California.
Updated March 26, 2020