California Maternity Leave

Right off the bat, I have to say that I find it deplorable that the U.S. has such poor policies for maternity leave accommodations relative to most other industrialized nations.  In the words of one of my foreign relatives, it is “barbaric” that Short Term Disability only pays a new mother 6 weeks for a regular delivery (8 weeks for c-section).  Compare that to up to 7-12 months PAID in many other countries, and it’s no wonder that many working mothers simply can’t fathom returning to their jobs so soon and, ultimately, don’t.

Fortunately, I live in California, where policies are marginally better.  In addition to Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protection, both hubby and I are eligible for additional job protection under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).  That said, I am convinced that both legislators and companies make the acts as confusing as possible to encourage new parents to give up the headache and simply come back to work!

I am by no means an expert, but after much research and about 30 calls to my company’s Leave Department, I think I have enough of a grasp to help explain the benefits for my particular situation:

  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA):  This is a federal act that allows for 12 weeks of unpaid job protection (both mother and father) following the birth of a child.  To be eligible, the parent must have worked at least 12 months and 1250 hours at their company, and the company must employ at least 50 employees.  The rub is that if both parents happen to work for the same company, they’re only entitled to a combined 12 weeks of protection (vs. 12 weeks each).
  • California Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) & Short Term Disability (STD):  This is paid and assuming you take it post-birth, it will run in concurrence with FMLA, so will be job protected.  Only the mother is eligible in a childbirth scenario.  Typically, for a vaginal birth, the mother will receive 6 weeks of STD and/or CA PDL.  For a c-section, the mother will receive 8 weeks.  Payment depends on your company’s policies – in my case, my company pays 100% of my salary up to a certain number of weeks based on my tenure, and then 75% of my salary for weeks beyond that.  I believe that if your company is paying less than 100%, then that’s when CA PDL kicks in to cover the rest.  Note that CA PDL also allows for up to 4 weeks prior to birth at a benefit amount of up to 55% of your weekly salary (capped at somewhere around $1000/week).  However, this pre-birth leave is NOT job-protected and some companies (including my own) will not allow you to take it.
  • California Family Rights Act (CFRA):  This is unpaid leave that provides 12 weeks of of job protection in a rolling 12 month period for mother and father.  This runs in concurrence with FMLA but begins after STD ends (for the mother).  This means that if the mother opts to take the full leave under both FMLA and CFRA immediately after the birth of her child, that her CFRA protection will begin once she is released from Short Term Disability, and will subsequently out-run her FMLA job-protection benefit.  Confusing, I know.
  • California Paid Family Leave (PFL):  This allows for up to 6 weeks of paid benefit for both mother and father (assuming both take advantage).  You get paid up to 55% of your weekly salary amount, with a cap of somewhere around $1000/week.  This leave is NOT job protected, but can be taken in conjunction with CFRA/FMLA to ensure job protection.

Clear as mud??  I found that the most important thing in trying to clarify the best plan for us was to first identify our top priority – Time or Income.  Were we looking to take the longest job-protected leaves possible, regardless of income during that time?  Or was income during our leaves the larger concern?  In our case, we chose time, so the following illustrates a rough example of how we were able to maximize our job-protected leaves:

  1. Prior to baby’s due date, I took 1 week of Paid Time Off (required by the company as a “waiting period” for Short Term Disability).  Please note that many California companies will allow you to take advantage of up to 4 weeks of California PDL prior to the baby’s due date, paid at up to 55% (capped) of your weekly salary.  By “allow you,” I mean “job-protect you.”  Mine unfortunately was one that would not.
  2. After baby’s birth, I received 6 weeks of Short Term Disability for a vaginal delivery.  Additionally, the FMLA job protection clock started ticking the day the baby was born.  Hubby concurrently took 3 weeks of company-paid time off upon the baby’s birth.
  3. Once I was released from Short Term Disability at 6 weeks postpartum, the clock began ticking under CFRA (if you’re keeping count, I’m now 6 weeks into my 12 weeks of FMLA job protection; now an additional 12 weeks of CFRA is running concurrently with my remaining 6 weeks of FMLA).  In addition, I received 6 weeks of payment under California PFL (up to 6 weeks of payment at 55% of my salary – capped at about $1000/week). 
  4. Once my California PFL benefit ran out after 6 weeks, I began my final 6 weeks of UNPAID job-protection under CFRA.  My full FMLA benefit of 12 weeks has now run out so I am only protected under CFRA for the remaining 6 weeks.
  5. Once I have exhausted all job protection, I will use 2.5 weeks of accrued Paid Time Off (PTO).  At the time that PTO begins, I am “reinstated” back at work and am no longer on leave.
  6. Once I return to work, hubby will begin his 12 weeks of job-protected leave under CFRA.  Like me, his first 6 weeks will be partially paid at 55% of his salary (capped).  His final 6 weeks will be unpaid.

In a nutshell, this puts us both back to work when our baby is about 7.5 months old (exhausting all job protection and PTO).  That’s a total of about 5 months of leave and PTO for me, 3 months for hubby.  Of this time, we are receiving 6 weeks fully paid by STD/CA PDL, 3.5 weeks fully paid by PTO, 12 weeks partially paid (55% of salary) by CA PFL, and 12 weeks unpaid.

For those in California looking to maximize income during leaves, the plans would be different.  If you are looking to continue receiving full pay throughout your leave, you would rely on 6 weeks of STD/CA PDL after the birth of your child (8 weeks for c-section).  Beyond that, you would have to use company-paid PTO or vacation time.

If you decide to sacrifice some, but not all, income, you can take your 6-8 weeks of fully paid STD/CA PDL following by an additional 6 weeks of CA PFL paid at 55% of your salary.  The baby’s father could then also receive benefits for an additional 6 weeks of CA PFL.  This would put you at 18 weeks postpartum (assuming vaginal delivery) before taking into consideration any company-paid PTO or vacation time.

Bottom line is that our maternity accommodations here are dismal.  I can’t even imagine what it would be like in some states outside of California where the job-protected leave is limited to 12 weeks total under FMLA (all unpaid except for concurrent STD).  I think change can come, but it will be a long time coming.  In the meantime, do your homework and begin your leave plans well ahead of time to ensure a financial safety net as well as a full understanding of your rights and limitations.  Good luck!


5 responses to “California Maternity Leave

  1. My leave is even more confusing. I didn’t qualify for FMLA originally since I hadn’t been with my company for 1 year when LO was born. However I have now hit that mark. So after birth I just took disability and now I am taking CFRA along with CA PFL in 2 week increments Up to my 12 weeks are reached. So basically I am taking 2 weeks off every other month until LO is 1. It is just so complicated but glad for the extra time. I totally wish I lives somewhere in Europe and had a year off!


    • Oh I see – so your 1 year mark was reached after your Disability ended, right? That’s a good idea about the 2 week increments. I thought about doing something like that too, but then figured for me it was just easier to do it all at once. And YES, definitely wish I lived somewhere where they get a year off, no questions asked (not to mention “free” healthcare in most of those places too!)


  2. Is there a way of extending leave after the 6 weeks w/o qualifying for fmla? Thank you


  3. Hi Frances – good question. So I am assuming you have been with your company for less than a year (or they have fewer than the minimum number of employees requiring them to comply with FMLA)? If you are in California, my understanding is that CFRA will provide you job protection concurrent with FMLA (or even without FMLA, if you do not qualify). So you may want to look into that; having job protection through CFRA instead of FMLA.


  4. Are you able to use your 6 weeks paid (non-job protected) baby bonding time AFTER the 12 week CFRA time is over instead of during? I’d love to extend my leave a little further!


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