Maternity Leave in California

by Annie on August 18, 2011 · 96 comments

in Maternity Leave

I am lucky to stay home with my baby for 5 months after giving birth. Of the 5 months, I got paid 4.5 months to cuddle, breastfeed, and bond with my baby. The maternity leave in California is quite generous for government employees (I am not state employee). Even if you do not work for a government agency, you can take at least 3 months of maternity leave in California, if you pay into the CA disability insurance program.

This post is a breakdown of how I was able to enjoy 4.5 months of paid maternity leave in California and how to calculate your maternity leave. Next time I will get into more details about the application process for maternity leave.

CA disability insurance

You are can request up to 6 months off for maternity leave in California since your job is protected under FMLA and CFRA. If you want to take this much time off for maternity leave in California, you need to understand how to get the most money out of the state’s disability program.

The key to getting an extended paid maternity leave in California is the CA disability insurance program. Most government employees, special district, and private employees pay into the CA disability insurance program. To find out whether you are paying into state’s disability insurance (SDI), you can check your pay stub for a deduction to SDI or ask your Human Resources department. If you are not covered under CA disability insurance program, then the rest of this article probably would not help you.

Maternity leave before giving birth (4 weeks)

You can start your maternity leave in California up to 4 weeks prior to giving birth. This is why your doctor’s calculation of your official due is so critical. In my case, they moved my due date back three times, so I ended up working until the day I went into labor. So officially my baby is a preemie (a month early), while I think she arrived on time (she had no preemie health issues other than a little bit of jaundice that required some sunning).

If you have CA disability insurance, they will cover 55% of your pay up to the dollar limit set for the year. And since you are “temporarily disable by your pregnancy,” your sick leave balance (or any personal time off) at work will cover 45% of your pay. So during this 4 weeks before birth, you should be able to enjoy (if you can get your body into a comfortable position) 4 weeks of paid time off. This part is your pregnancy disability leave.

Maternity leave recovering from birth (6 or 8 weeks)

CA disability insurance will cover 6 weeks for a vagina birth and 8 weeks for a C-section. Once again, the state’s disability insurance will cover 55% of your pay up to the dollar limit set for the year for 6 or 8 weeks. Since you are still “still temporarily disable” you can use your sick leave (or any personal time off) balance at work to cover the remaining 45% of your pay.

The 6 or 8 weeks are the official dates no matter how beat up you feel after giving birth. At 6 weeks I felt sufficiently recovered to slowly walk around the park, but I definitely would not have been able to work full time with the hectic nursing and sleep deprived schedule. Most of my friends were barely able to start cleaning their home 8 weeks after a C- section. I think the 6 or 8 weeks defined by the medical community only meant you are on the road to recovery, not full recovery.

Maternity leave for bonding with newborn (6 weeks)

Maternity leave in California includes 6 weeks of paid time off to “bond” with your newborn. After giving birth, you will get a notice in the mail letting you know that you are entitled to 6 weeks of Paid Family Leave (bonding time) in California if you paid into the CA disability insurance. Here is the cool part: both you and your husband can take Paid Family Leave at the same time or separately for your newborn up until a year after giving birth (but only if he pays into CA disability insurance).

Once again, it only covers 55% of your pay up to the dollar limit set for the year. At this point, since you are officially “recovered,” you are not allowed to use sick leave for the remaining 45%. You will need to use vacation or personal time off in order to make up the difference in pay.

Even if you only work part-time, as long as you earn at least $300 and pay into SDI, you might be qualify for Paid Family Leave. Don’t leave this money on the table, check with EDD.

I always thought you only need sick leave for maternity leave. I saved all my sick leave over the years, even using vacation at times when I have a doctor appointment, so that I can have an extended paid maternity leave. I was disappointed to find out that I have to take a leave of absence to stay home while receiving Paid Family Leave from CA disability insurance. For this portion of my maternity leave, I was only got 55% of my pay.

California maternity leave

From CA disability insurance program alone, most women can have 4 months of paid maternity leave:

  • 4 weeks (SDI to prior to birth)
  • 6 or 8 weeks (SDI to recover from birth)
  • 6 weeks (Paid Family Leave to bond)

Additional paid maternity leave

So 3 or 4 months paid time off for maternity in California is standard for most women if they paid into the state’s disability insurance. However, you might have other paid time off to use during your maternity leave.

Vacation / Personal time off

If you have any additional vacation or personal time off, you can use it before or after taking Paid Family Leave.

Since my goal was to extend my maternity leave for as long as possible, I chose to use up all my remaining vacation prior to taking Paid Family Leave. If I used my vacation concurrently with Paid Family Leave, I would get 100% of my pay for 5 weeks of the 6 weeks on Paid Family Leave. But I rather extend my maternity leave by an additional 2 weeks and just take 55% of my pay while on Paid Family Leave.

Employer maternity leave

At work, my employer gives every employee one month paid time off for a new addition to the family (whether it is through birth or adoption). This gave me an additional 4 weeks off.

Calculating my maternity leave in California

Since I worked until I went into labor, I did not get the 4 weeks off while I was still pregnant (not my choice. This is where your due date is critical.) My maternity looked like this:

  • 6 weeks (SDI to recover from birth)
  • 4 weeks employer maternity leave
  • 2 weeks vacation
  • 6 weeks (Paid Family Leave to bond)
  • Total paid maternity leave = 4.5 months

Since I was already had to put in a request for a leave of absence for Paid Family Leave, I might as well request for 8 weeks off to make my entire maternity leave 5 months (2 weeks non-paid). After all, I did have job protection under FMLA and CRFA for maternity leave in California.

Next time I will get into the nitty gritty details of how to apply for maternity leave in California.

To find out about how to make the most of your maternity leave and enjoy the time with your baby, you need to watch this. I watched this video in my birthing class and it made a huge difference on how to get our baby adjusted to being outside the womb and to stop crying. His method really works!

Thanks for reading New Mommy Diary.


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{ 91 comments… read them below or add one }

MIchelle January 29, 2014 at 3:48 pm

Annie would you know if 6 week bonding /fmla leave have separate 7 day waiting period?



Annie February 1, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Michelle – there is an additional seven day waiting period if you return to work full time after using up your SDI. If you return part time or continue with time off (whether vacation or a leave of absence) then there is no additional waiting period.


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