In California, most employees must contribute a small payroll tax to the state's short-term disability insurance (SDI) program. These payments fund disability benefits for employees who are temporarily unable to work due to disability, including pregnancy.
If you qualify for SDI benefits, you'll receive a percentage of your regular wages. Employees receive about 60-70% of what they were earning before becoming disabled.
This article explains how to calculate your exact benefit amount, but first, you have to understand what your "base period" is.
Most California employees are entitled to an SDI benefit equal to 60% of their regular wages, up to a cap. In 2023, the cap is $1,620 per week; the state adjusts the cap as necessary to adjust for inflation. Lower-income employees may be entitled to 70% of their regular wages.
But you won't necessarily receive 60-70% of what you were earning just before becoming unable to work. Instead, California benefits depend on your earnings during the "base period."
Your base period is the 12-month period ending just before the last complete calendar quarter you were able to work. For example, if you become disabled in November 2022, the last complete calendar quarter you worked was July 1, 2022 through September 30, 2022. So, your base period for benefits is July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022.
Or, say you become disabled in June 2024, then your base period will be all of 2023.
Once you file an SDI claim, your base period doesn't change.
California pays SDI benefits on a daily basis. The state's Economic Development Department (EDD) will use the highest-paid quarter of your base period to come up with a daily amount. If you make less than about $2,300 per month, you'll receive about 70% of the daily amount. If you make more, you'll receive about 60% of the daily amount.
For example, if you earned $18,000 in your highest-paid quarter, and that quarter included 90 days, your daily earnings amount would be almost $200. The EDD will pay you 60% of that amount, or almost $120 per day. Note that this is the amount you will earn for every single day you are not working, including weekends. So your weekly benefit would add up to $120 times 7 days, or almost $840.
If you have high earnings, you could be subject to the cap. For example, if you earned $40,000 in your highest-paid quarter, which included 91 days, your daily earnings amount would be almost $440. The EDD's initial benefit calculation would be 60% of this amount, or roughly $264. Because this daily amount times 7 days ($1,848) is more than the state's current weekly maximum of $1,620 (in 2023), your weekly benefit would be the maximum of $1,620.
The EDD publishes a schedule you can use to calculate your benefit amount, once you know your earnings for the highest-paid quarter of the base period. The agency also has an SDI calculator you can use to estimate your benefit. The average weekly benefit amount in 2021 is $807.
If you're receiving money from your company while you're disabled, it may affect your benefit amount, depending on the type of payment. But if you're collecting strictly accrued paid vacation time, you'll still receive full disability benefits.
On the other hand, if you're using any of the following, your benefits will be affected:
The EDD will subtract from your benefit amount what you are actually being paid and will pay you the difference (if there is one).
Similarly, if you return to work gradually, working shorter hours or in a light-duty position, the EDD will subtract what you're paid for your part-time work or light-duty work from your benefit amount and will pay you the difference. Your SDI payments will continue only while you're still disabled, however. Once you return to your regular work, your benefits will cease.
The state uses your highest-paid calendar quarter during the base period as a starting point. If you receive the same salary year in and year out, the timing of your claim won't affect you much (because your highest-paid quarter will be the same as any other quarter).
But if your wages are irregular, or you receive a bonus at some point, when you file your claim could significantly change your benefit amount. If the months where you earn the most fall within the base period, your payment will be higher.
For instance, let's say you receive a significant retention bonus after your company is purchased. Using the second example above with a base period of 2023, above, if your bonus was paid in January of 2024, it wouldn't fall within your base period, and your benefits wouldn't reflect that higher amount. But if the bonus was paid in December of 2023, that would be in your highest-paid quarter in the base period, and it would be included in calculating your benefits.
If you have irregular earnings, you may be able to time your claim to make sure that your base period captures your highest earnings. You must file for benefits within 49 days of becoming disabled, so you can't wait forever. But if postponing your claim for a few days would yield a much higher benefit payment, and you're still within the filing deadline, you may want to delay your claim.
After the EDD receives your claim for benefits, it will contact your employer and may contact you for information. If the EDD decides you're eligible for benefits, it will send you a notice of eligibility, along with its initial calculation of your benefit amount.
Typically, claimants receive benefits every two weeks while they're out of work. You may receive your benefits on a bank debit card that you can use to withdraw cash or pay for items, like a regular debit card. You can also transfer your benefits from the EDD debit card to your regular bank account.
While you're on disability leave, you may have to complete additional paperwork to receive your benefits. For example, if you have to stay out longer than you planned, or if you didn't know how long your disability would last when you applied for benefits, you may need to confirm to the EDD that you are still unable to work. Your health care provider may also have to provide additional information to show that you're still unable to work.
Updated September 21, 2023