Maternity Leave Laws in California


California maternity leave laws provide employees up to seven months of unpaid time off: Companies with five or more employees give up to four months of pregnancy-disability leave to expecting workers. And companies with 20 or more employees give up to 12 weeks of family leave to workers with new babies.

California employers are not required to provide paid maternity leave. But there are ways to receive money during this time. These include using accrued paid time off, state disability insurance, temporary disability pay, and the Paid Family Leave Act. Employers are also required to keep workers on their health insurance during maternity leave.

Employers may not discriminate against workers for taking maternity/paternity leave that they are legally entitled to. If they do, employees can file a claim with California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing. If that does not work, they can file a lawsuit.

In this article, our California labor law attorneys discuss:

Both parents' hands on pregnant belly. Both moms and dads may be eligible to take time off after a baby's birth to bond.
Most businesses with 20 or more workers must provide 12 weeks of parental leave following birth.

1. What is pregnancy disability leave?

Pregnancy disability leave (PDL) is time away from work for female employees and employees with uteruses who become unable to work due to their pregnancy. Up to four months of unpaid leave is available to workers in the state of California if:

  1. They are mentally or physically disabled from the pregnancy, birth, or related medical condition; and
  2. The company employs at least five people (with the exception of certain religious nonprofits)

Both full- and part-time workers qualify for pregnancy leave. So do both long-term and recently-hired workers. And they can take the time off in increments.1

Employees are disabled if their doctor believes they cannot carry out an essential job function. Common PDL-qualifying disabilities are:

  • Severe morning sickness
  • Preeclampsia
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Postpartum depression
  • Miscarriage
  • Prenatal and postnatal care
  • Other health conditions requiring bed rest

Many workers qualify for PDL by week 36 of their pregnancy (about four weeks before the due date). Vaginal births usually warrant six weeks of leave (if there are no issues). And C-sections (caesareans) may require eight weeks of unpaid leave at least.

Once PDL ends, employees must get their same - or similar - job back unless there is a legitimate business reason.2 A common example is mass layoffs.  

2. What is family leave?

Family leave (a.k.a. baby bonding leave) is time away from work for employees to bond with a new child. Under the New Parent Leave act, male, female, trans, and nonbinary workers in California may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave a year if:

  1. The employer employs at least 20 people within 75 miles of the worksite; and
  2. The employee has worked for the employer more than a 12-month period prior to family leave date; and
  3. The employee worked at least 1,250 hours for the employer in the last 12 months; and
  4. The employee has a new child by birth, adoption, or foster care placement.3

Employees who give birth may take these family leave benefits following PDL. This way, they get up to seven months of time off for each pregnancy.⁠

Family leave can be taken in increments throughout one year. But employers can require that only two of these increments last less than two weeks.

Once family leave ends, employees must get their same - or similar - job back. Employers must also give them reasonable opportunity to catch up on any training.4

3. What is reasonable accommodation leave?

This is time off for impaired workers to receive treatment and recover. Pregnant employees or new parents may be eligible for this time off if: 

  1. California's anti-discrimination laws cover the employer; and
  2. The employee cannot perform essential job functions due to a physical or mental disability; and
  3. The employee can perform essential job functions if given leave; and
  4. The leave will not cause the employer undue hardship.

Eligible employees can take reasonable accommodation leave in addition to PDL and family leave. This time off may be paid or unpaid depending on the company.5

Courts say these type of leave benefits should be a last resort under state law.6

Hansd of new dad holding baby during unpaid paternity leave.
California law and federal law offer job protection for many new parents.

4. Is maternity leave paid in California?

Employers do not have to give paid leave.7 They just have to leave their workers' jobs open for when they return. But there are ways for employees to continue receiving money.

  • Accrued Paid Time Off. Employees may use their vacation or sick days towards maternity leave. Employers may even require workers to use their accrued paid leave.
  • Health insurance. Companies must keep workers on PDL or family leave on their group health insurance at the same contribution rates.  
  • Paid Family Leave Act (PFL). Eligible employees can get partial pay for six weeks during a one-year period to bond with a new child. The maximum weekly salary is $1,300.
  • Temporary Disability Pay. Employers must pay their employees on PDL if they would pay similarly-situated employees on disability leave for non-pregnancy/birth-related conditions.
  • State Disability Insurance (SDI). Employees eligible for SDI must have paid $300 or more into the program for five to 18 months before the claim's start date. And the employee must have a pregnancy- or birth-related short-term disability. Currently, SDI pays out $194.91 to $1,299.43 per week.

Some companies do provide paid maternity leave as a matter of policy. Employees are advised to consult with a labor attorney to discuss all of their options and what they are entitled to.

5. How do employees request maternity leave?

Some companies have handbooks with instructions. Some requests must be written. Other businesses allow oral requests. 

Workers should give bosses reasonable notice. No fewer than 30 days. If a medical emergency arises, then as soon as possible.8

For PDL, employees may have to provide a note from their health care provider.

6. Can people get fired for taking maternity leave?

Companies with less than five workers may fire or demote employees for taking PDL. (And certain religious non-profits are never required to provide PDL.)

Workers who take family leave may be fired or demoted if either:

  1. The company employs less than 20 people within 75 miles of the worksite; or
  2. The employee worked 12 months or less for the company; or
  3. The employee worked less than 1,250 hours in the prior 12 months

Otherwise, firing or demoting a pregnant employee or new parent in violation of their leave rights is a form of discrimination.

Note that California's anti-discrimination laws do not protect people employed by their spouses, parents, or children.9 And independent contractors are not entitled to time off.10

7. Can employees sue for pregnancy discrimination?

First workers should try to resolve the matter in-house. Such as meeting with the manager.

If that does not work, the employee must submit a complaint to California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Employees have one year to file this complaint after the date of the alleged violation.11

If the DFEH cannot resolve the dispute, it will issue the employee a right-to-sue letter. Only then can the employee formally sue the company. ⁠The employee would need to show four things:

  1. California's discrimination laws cover the employer;
  2. The employer fired, demoted, or refused to promote the employee (or took another negative action);
  3. The employer's reason was the employee's pregnancy, possible future pregnancy, or pregnancy-related disability; and
  4. The employer's negative action caused the employee harm⁠

Employees have one year to sue after receiving the right-to-sue letter. The employee may seek such remedies as:

  • Compensatory damages (such as lost wages);
  • Punitive damages (to punish the employer); and/or
  • Job reinstatement

Meanwhile, employers may not fire or otherwise retaliate against employees just for filing a claim against them.12

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Discriminated against for taking maternity leave? Contact our Los Angeles labor lawyers now at 855-390-0370. We will evaluate your situation. And we will discuss how we can help. Our goal is to help you keep your job and/or win you the maximum possible settlement.

Legal References

  1. Govt. Code 12945; see the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).
  2. Cal. Code Regs., title 2, 11043.
  3. Govt. Code 12945.2;
  4. Cal. Code Regs., title 2, 11089; see the Employment Development Department (EDD); see the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
  5. Sanchez v. Swissport, Inc. (2013) 213 Cal.App.4th 1331, 1338-1341 (2013).
  6. Jensen v. Wells Fargo, 85 Cal.App.4th 245, 263 (2000).
  7. Cal. Code Regs., title 2, 11044.
  8. Cal. Code Regs., title 2, 11050.
  9. Govt. Code 12926.
  10. Cal. Code Regs., title 2, 11008.
  11. Govt. Code 12960.
  12. Govt. Code 12940, 12956.

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