Understanding the Laws of Maternity Leave in California

Understanding the Laws of Maternity Leave in California

Maternity leave in the California law is subjected to a number of terms and conditions. The OpinionFront write-up below will help you in understanding the laws of maternity leave in California.
OpinionFront Staff
"They are scared of taking a long maternity leave. They're scared of losing their health insurance. They're scared of how their relationships might change with their co-workers and their bosses, how their job future might be impacted by this. It's not as simple as 'Oh, I'm having a baby and I'll be back soon.' It's a complicated issue."
― Lauren Wallenstein, Founder, Milk Your Benefits

Working women all over the world need to take a mandatory break when they decide to bear a child. As clichéd as it might sound, it gets rather difficult for them to get back to the workforce. Many of them prefer leaving their child at a day care center and starting work as soon as possible, due to the immense responsibilities and expenses. Most companies do grant a maternity leave, after which women are permitted to return to work, but this leave has different terms and conditions in different states, especially with regards to whether they are paid/unpaid. Read the following paragraphs to understand how the laws regarding maternity leave are structured in California.
Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
  • By stated laws, the FEHA (Fair Employment and Housing Act) declares that female employees be granted leave if she is pregnant or has any condition related to childbirth.
  • The conditions include prenatal and postnatal care, recovery, morning sickness, post-partum depression, gestational diabetes, hypertension, bed rest, etc.
  • The leave period is declared to be four months.
  • The employer is obligated to pay health insurance even during the leave period.
  • FEHA supports several other clauses regarding maternity leave. They are outlined below.
Types of Leave
Reportedly, there are two types of maternity leave:

Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL)
  • As already mentioned, the FEHA states that every employer is supposed to grant 4 months of maternity leave.
  • This rule is to be strictly complied with, even if the employers decide to adopt their own policies, in addition.
  • This leave though, is strictly related only to pregnancy and child care.
  • Also, if the woman tends to recover earlier than 4 months, she may not be entitled to the entire leave period.
  • According to the rules of the state, the days in these four months are the number of working days put in by the employee. The time period, therefore, must be accurately calculated.

California Family Rights Act (CFRA) Leave
  • This is the second type of leave, which Californian laws provide, to bond with your child.
  • For this purpose you have to meet certain requirements of course, and if you do, you are entitled to 12 weeks of medical leave.
  • One need not have to be sick to avail this leave period. You just have to meet the set criteria.

Paid Family Leave (PFL)
  • The PFL (Paid Family Leave) is an extension of State Disability Insurance (SDI) and was brought to light in the year 2004.
  • The prerequisites to get qualified for this program include a contribution from your side to the SDI. There are other legal requirements too.
  • With the addition of this program, California rose up the ranks as one of the finest states to offer rights for working mothers.
  • Your benefits vary as per how you are subjected to different examinations.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • The CFRA is mimed as California's FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act).
  • This act helps employees take unpaid leave for medical and family reasons.
  • It helps you be granted leave up to 12 weeks to bond with your newborn.
  • In fact, if you have adopted a kid or have been granted the responsibility of a foster child (below the age of 18), FMLA grants you leave to help establish a bonding with the new addition in the family. This leave however, needs to be taken within the first year of adoption.

Entitlement to Pay
  • As a rule, maternity leave is unpaid; employers are not obligated to pay anything during this time.
  • However, in certain circumstances, the employer needs to pay the employee, for instance, if the leave granted for other temporary disabilities is paid, he has to pay for maternity leave too.
  • Sometimes, the expectant mothers may already have sick leaves and the like lined up earlier, which they may not have used. According to the laws in California, some employers may require that their female employees add these accrued leaves to this unpaid leave.
  • Employees can make use of their vacation pay during this period, and they also have a right to receive disability insurance.

Benefits
  • The benefits provided are different under different state laws.
  • As already mentioned, FEHA states that female employees be paid the health insurance as well as disability insurance benefits if the company has been paying for it in other situations.
  • Sick leave and vacations can be incorporated in the maternity leave.
  • If the same have to be added as an extension to the already granted 4-month period, the employer's decision is considered final.
  • If you are eligible for PFL, you will receive 55% of your average weekly income, i.e., you can receive 6 weeks of your money.
  • Your benefits will be determined after examining your highest quarterly earnings.
  • If you have an income of at least USD 300 during this base period, you will receive a weekly benefit between USD 50 and USD 1,067.

Legal Formalities
  • You have to fulfill a number of eligibility criteria and legal requirements for the maternity leave period.
  • You must preferably give an advanced notice to your employer regarding your leave.
  • To qualify for leave under FEHA, you have to be pregnant or have some disability related to the same.
  • To qualify for leave under the PDL or CFRA, the same condition holds true. Besides, your employer should have employed at least 50 employees who reside within a 75-mile radius of the workplace.
  • You should have spent at least 12 months with the company and your working period should be at least 1,250 hours.
  • You will need a doctor's claim for certain benefits.
  • You must have participated in any SDI program to qualify for the PFL, and you must be residing in California.
  • You can submit an application to the California Employment Development Department (EDD) to claim for benefits under the PFL.

Important Points to Remember
  • If your employer provides benefits for any other kind of disability, he is entitled to pay for maternity leave too.
  • The FMLA offers 12 weeks leave for fathers too, under the same eligibility criteria and benefits.
  • In fact, under FMLA, you can return to work on a part-time basis as well.
  • There is provision called 'reduced leave schedule', which allows women to start working part-time after six weeks.
  • This is done by calculating the number of working hours. Assuming a 40-hour weekly schedule, 12 weeks amounts to 480 working hours.
  • Six weeks qualifies for 240 hours, which means that after that the mothers can work on a temporary schedule as per the FMLA regulations.
  • You need not take your leave all at once of course, if you recover early, an intermittent leave is granted and you can be transferred to another position and continue working.
  • Californian laws clearly state that maternity leave has to be granted, i.e., it need not be earned.
  • No employer has the right to fire/harass you if you are pregnant.
  • If the employee requests, employers are expected to provide housing for the employee.

Job protection is an important consideration for pregnant ladies. Eligible female employees do need an assurance on paper that their desks are waiting for them when they return, irrespective of whether the leave is paid or unpaid. California certainly has some excellent benefit programs for working mothers, and has set a good example. If you are about to be a mom and you reside in this state, thank your lucky stars. And considering the development in technology, it wouldn't be too much to expect some more work-from-home plans to be formulated for stay-at-home mothers. This would probably stimulate more women to consider working even post pregnancy and would also help the companies.