What Is Pregnancy Disability Leave?

Pregnancy disability leave (PDL) is a type of leave that a woman takes because of a pregnancy, childbirth, or conditions related to a pregnancy or that are exacerbated as a result of pregnancy or childbirth. Pregnancy is often a time of joy for a family. But when it comes to the workplace, pregnancies can put physical strain on a woman's body that makes work challenging at times. 

Pregnancy Disability Leave: Qualifying Events

PDL encompasses both the events of pregnancy and childbirth as well as conditions that crop up from either of these things. PDL is taken after events like:

  • Physician-ordered bed rest
  • Childbirth
  • Recovery from childbirth
  • Prenatal visits
  • Prenatal care
  • Severe morning sickness

The qualifying condition for taking PDL is that a woman can no longer perform duties as part of her job due to her pregnancy or conditions caused or exacerbated by it.  Prior to this, the company must make every reasonable effort to accommodate the employee in need. The company can only deny these accommodations if it can provide evidence that such accommodations would unduly burden or strain it.

Can an Employer Fire an Employee for Pregnancy?

An employer is prohibited from firing an employee based on her pregnancy. By the same token, employers and fellow employees cannot harass a female coworker because she is pregnant. However, a pregnant employee can still be fired if her entire department is also being let go or she has been a bad employee. An employer is not allowed to discriminate against an employee on the basis of her pregnancy in the state of California.

Arranging to receive temporary disability benefits is a relatively easy process. But how does a woman know if she should consider consulting a lawyer? Knowing the rights associated with being pregnant or having a pregnancy related condition is important. Any questions about these rights should be answered by an attorney.

There are different pieces of legislation that can be used together. Lawyers help a woman understand if and when they apply to her situation. An employee who may be the subject of discrimination or is unable to take time off due to intimidation or discrimination should consult a disability or employment lawyer as soon as possible. Pregnant women have rights and are entitled to leave under the law.

Overview of STI and PFL

State Disability Insurance, or SDI, is made available to any employee who finds themselves unable to work temporarily due to an illness or injury. This includes pregnancy, childbirth, and conditions like:

  • High-risk pregnancy
  • High blood pressure related to pregnancy
  • Severe morning sickness
  • Severe post-partum depression

While on leave, a pregnant woman may receive benefits from SDI and then paid family leave (PFL). The payments are not allowed to come at the same time. Employees who receive SDI coverage are also covered by PFL.

Benefits of SDI and PFL

SDI and PFL are both programs that are funded through payment withholding. This means that a woman who is pregnant pays into it during regular employment and will continue to do so once she is able to return to work and resume normal duties.

Between SDI and FPL, the benefits from each program will pay just over half of the earnings that have been received during regular employment. This is just under $1200 per week at the most. Benefits will be given out every two weeks. The maximum payout is the highest payment received in the last calendar year. The maximum payment schedule does adjust periodically. The Employment Development Department (EDD) will have the most accurate information.

Employees who receive below the 55 percent mark in benefits will most likely receive more than that in benefit payments. This is attributed to the fact that benefits are not subject to the withholding that regular paychecks are.

A new employee may be eligible to receive SDI and PFL benefits. Unlike FMLA, these programs do not have work status requirements of full time or part time.

Another eligibility requirement is the 8-day rule. The 8-day rule states that the employee must be:

  • Unable to work
  • Under the care of a physician or other medical personnel
  • Employed and suffering lost wages
  • Unemployed and actively looking

Women in any of these situations will receive benefits after 8 straight days in this status.

An employee can only receive certain sets of benefits. If SDI and PFL are being paid out, the employee cannot also receive workers compensation.  This applies to other income too. An employee who receives income from other sources such as freelancing will have that same amount subtracted from their benefits.

Employers are not required to make their employees use sick or vacation time before leave actually starts. They can request that this is done. If the time is available and both sides agree, this is a viable lead off to leave.

There is a waiting period of seven days prior to receiving both SDI and PFL benefits, but if an employee wants to receive PFL benefits immediately after her SDI benefits end, there is no other wait period required to get the next set of benefits.

Short Term Disability Insurance (SDI)

SDI and TDI, Temporary Disability Insurance, are the same thing in California. The majority of employees there are covered by it. The requirements for it are:

  • The main eligibility requirement for SDI is an inability to work due to a disability and lost income resulting from this disability.
  • An employee receives SDI after earning at least $300 during the first year base period. SDI taxes must be taken out of this amount too. The base period is defined as the first year and ends one-quarter before the claim is filed.
  • Employees are not allowed to receive SDI and funds from workers compensation.

If an employee needs long-term disability insurance in California, the state does not offer a separate program. A woman in need of this is able to apply to for Social Security Disability Insurance after a year.

California Pregnancy Disability Leave Law

California has a Pregnancy Disability Leave Law. Under this law, women who are pregnant cannot be discriminated against. Additionally, the law requires employers to give 4 months off to employees for pregnancy, childbirth, and pregnancy related conditions. Like the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) this leave is unpaid and is not considered maternity leave. So, it is not intended to provide the benefits that medical disability does.

California Family Rights Act (CFRA) offers an additional 12 weeks off in addition to the 4 months of pregnancy leave. This is a total of seven months off, potentially, if the disability leaves the employee unable to work for a longer period of time.

California Paid and Disability Family Leave

California is also one of the few states that offers some paid leave benefits for employees who are temporarily unable to work due to disability or who want to take time off work to bond with a newborn child. Under the PFL program, new parents are provided up to six weeks of partial wage replacement for parents who take time off to bond with a new child. Bonding with the new child applies to couples and not just women. The birth of a child is a qualifying event that provides fathers and same-sex partners the same opportunity to bond with a child that the mother receives herself.

In comparison to California, other states may not have legislation that allows this amount of time to a new family.

The requirements for receiving Paid Family Leave (PFL) are similar to the rules for receiving Short-Term Disability Insurance for a disability.

California's Family Rights Act 

The California Fair Employment and Housing Council (FEHC) laws changed to incorporate rules that are intended to prevent or discourage harassment and discrimination as of 2016. Some of these rules and regulations protect pregnant women.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows time off while a woman is still pregnant. California's Family Rights Act's 12 weeks under California's law applies to postpartum time only. If a woman is unable to work before giving birth, using SDI or FMLA are the best solutions for receiving doctor ordered time off.

During your leave, your employer must continue to provide you with any health care benefits you were receiving before your leave; however, you will be required to pay your portion of the premiums.

The portion that you pay for your premium will now be after-tax, which means your premiums will cost you more up front than they did while you were working. 

Pregnancy Disability Law in California

The SDI program focuses on the six weeks before the birth of a child and the six weeks following the birth of a child. Supporting evidence from a physician has the potential to lengthen these weeks even more.

Federal law and California State require the majority of providers to give their employees leave. Although the FMLA covers time taken off due to pregnancy, California's Family Rights Act does not. Once the employee is able to work, she can begin using her Family Rights Act leave for parenting, and she will still have a full 12-weeks of leave to take off. California is more generous than other states in this regard.

Parental leave may be available under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and California's Family Rights Act (CFRA).

Pregnancy Disability in California – Four Months

In California, expecting employees are not only entitled to maternity leave for the childbirth itself, but they have a right to time off for disabilities related to the pregnancy.

Most employers that have five or more employees, which includes most businesses in California, are governed by California's main pregnancy discrimination law, the Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA).

California's Pregnancy Disability Law is directly under the Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA).
If intermittent maternity leave is expected, employers may explore a temporary transfer to a similar position with equal pay and benefits.

California Pregnancy Disability Leave: How Much Leave?

Although an employer can hire a temporary staff person to fill in during an employee's absence, the company must allow the employee to return to her previous position or a position that has similar pay and responsibilities.

Women who qualify for Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) may take PDL on an as-needed basis and in small increments rather than at weeks at a time if recommended by their health care providers.

An employer must treat Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) like other temporary disabilities, in that any policies that apply to temporarily disabled workers must also apply to pregnant women.

Notice to Your Employer

If possible, an employee must provide her employer with at least 30 days’ notice before taking Pregnancy Disability Leave; however, medical emergencies do not require this much notice, and she cannot be denied leave due to an unforeseen absence.

Certification given to an employer must show the date of disability, the time needed off work, and an explanation of why an employee cannot work.

Employers must inform all employees of their right to take Pregnancy Disability Leave and include this information in company handbooks.

While an employee need not file a claim with a California agency to obtain Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL), she must request PDL from her employer directly, and she may be asked to support her request with medical documentation (i.e., a doctor's certificate).

Returning to Work

The only circumstance in which an employer can deny an employee the same position is if it had to be eliminated due to layoffs or location closures. Your employer is required to provide you with a less hazardous or strenuous position if needed and if such a position exists. An employer must also accommodate reasonable recommendations from a doctor.

Understanding rights under this legislation enable women to smoothly balance work needs with those of family without needing to be concerned about job security.

If you need help understanding pregnancy disability leave, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.