Maternity leave laws in California require companies with at least 5 employees to provide 12 weeks of unpaid family leave to new parents. Moreover, companies with at least 5 employees must provide up to four months of unpaid pregnancy-disability leave if you are unable to work due to pregnancy-related conditions or childbirth.
California employers are not required to provide paid maternity leave. Though 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 you on the company’s group health insurance during maternity leave. Plus, you must be reinstated to your same or comparable job position following your leave (with certain exceptions) even if it is inconvenient for your boss.
Employers may not discriminate against you for taking maternity / paternity leave that you are legally entitled to. If they do, you can file a claim with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing. If that does not work, you can file a lawsuit.
In this article, our California employment and labor law attorneys discuss:
- 1. What is pregnancy disability leave?
- 2. How long is maternity leave in California?
- 3. What is reasonable accommodation leave?
- 4. Is maternity leave paid in California?
- 5. How do I request maternity leave?
- 6. Can I get fired for taking maternity leave?
- 7. Can I sue for pregnancy discrimination or maternity leave violations?
Pregnancy disability leave (PDL) is time away from work if you become unable to do your job due to your pregnancy. Up to four months of unpaid leave is available to you in the state of California if:
- You are mentally or physically disabled from the pregnancy, birth, or related medical condition; and either
- Your company employs at least five people (with the exception of certain religious nonprofits); or
- Your employer is the state or local government; or
- Your employer is an agent to a covered employer.
Both full- and part-time workers qualify for pregnancy leave, as do both long-term and recently-hired workers. Also, you can take the time off in increments.1
You are disabled if your doctor believes you cannot carry out an essential job function. Common PDL-qualifying disabilities are:
- Severe morning sickness
- Preeclampsia / hypertension
- Gestational diabetes
- Postpartum depression
- Giving birth
- Miscarriage (other end of pregnancy) and recovery
- Prenatal and postnatal care
- Other health conditions requiring bed rest
Note that pregnant transgender men or non-binary people are also protected under PDL laws.2
Many workers qualify for PDL by week 36 of the pregnancy (about four weeks before the due date). Vaginal births usually warrant six weeks of leave (if there are no issues). C-sections (caesareans) may require eight weeks of unpaid leave at least.
Once PDL ends, you must get your same – or similar – job back unless there is a legitimate business reason (such as mass layoffs). You can request that this guarantee be in writing.3
Family leave (also called baby bonding leave, maternity leave, or paternity leave) is time away from work for you to bond with a new child.
Under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), you may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave a year if:
- Your employer employs at least 5 people; and
- You have worked for your employer for more than 12 months prior to the family leave date; and
- You worked at least 1,250 hours for your employer in the last 12-month period; and
- You have a new child by birth, adoption, or foster care placement.4
If you give birth, you may take these family leave benefits following PDL. This way, you get up to seven months of time off for each pregnancy.
Family leave can be taken in increments throughout one year after the child’s arrival. Though employers can require that only two of these increments last less than two weeks.
Once family leave ends, you must get your same or similar job back – even if someone else was filling in for you or your position was restructured.
If you are given a new job, all of the following must be equivalent or substantially similar to your old job:
- pay and benefits
- working conditions
- status, rights, perks, authority
- skill, responsibility, and effort
Employers must also give you a reasonable opportunity to catch up on any training.5
This is time off for impaired workers to receive treatment for and recover from
- physical disabilities that affect at least one of your body’s major systems and limits a major life activity; or
- mental disabilities that limit a major life activity.
If you are pregnant or a new parent, you may be eligible for this time off if:
- California’s anti-discrimination laws cover you; and
- You cannot perform essential job functions due to a physical or mental disability; and
- You can perform essential job functions if given leave; and
- The leave will not cause your employer undue hardship.
If eligible, you can take reasonable accommodation leave in addition to PDL and family leave. This time off may be paid or unpaid depending on your company.6
Courts have held that reasonable accommodation leave should be a last resort under state law.7
Employers do not have to give paid leave. They just have to continue your health insurance and leave your job open for when you return. Though there are ways for you to continue receiving money.
- Accrued Paid Time Off. You may use your vacation or sick days towards maternity leave. Employers may even require you to use your accrued paid leave.
- Health insurance. Companies must keep you on their group health insurance at the same contribution rates.
- Paid Family Leave Act (PFL). If eligible, you can get partial pay for eight weeks during a one-year period to bond with a new child. The maximum weekly salary is $1,620.
- Temporary Disability Pay. Employers must pay you if they would pay similarly-situated employees on disability leave for non-pregnancy/birth-related conditions.
- State Disability Insurance (SDI). If you are eligible for SDI, you must have paid $300 or more into the program for five to 18 months before the claim’s start date. Plus you must have a pregnancy- or birth-related short-term disability. The maximum weekly salary is $1,620.8
Some companies do provide paid maternity leave as a matter of policy. You are advised to consult with a labor attorney to discuss all of your options and what you are entitled to.
Some companies have handbooks with instructions. Some requests must be written. Other businesses allow oral requests.
You should give your boss reasonable notice, which is usually no fewer than 30 days. If a medical emergency arises, then as soon as possible.
You should also specify how much leave you will need. For PDL, you may have to provide a note from your healthcare provider.9
6. Can I get fired for taking maternity leave?
Companies with less than five workers may fire or demote you for taking PDL. (Certain religious non-profits are never required to provide PDL.)
If you take family leave, you may be fired or demoted if either:
- Your company employs less than 5; or
- You worked 12 months or less for the company; or
- You worked less than 1,250 hours in the prior 12 months
Otherwise, firing or demoting you in violation of your 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.10 Plus, independent contractors are not entitled to time off.11
7. Can I sue for pregnancy discrimination or maternity leave violations?
First you should try to resolve the matter in-house, such as by meeting with the manager.
If that does not work, you must submit a complaint to California’s Civil Rights Department (CRD), formerly the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Depending on the case, you usually have one or three years to file this complaint after the date of the alleged violation – so be sure to contact an attorney to determine which statute of limitations applies to you.12
If the CRD cannot resolve the dispute, it will issue you a right-to-sue letter. Only then can you formally sue the company. You would need to show four things:
- California’s discrimination laws cover your employer;
- Your employer fired, demoted, or refused to promote you (or took another negative action);
- Your employer’s reason was your pregnancy, possible future pregnancy, or pregnancy-related disability; and
- Your employer’s negative action caused you harm
You have one year to sue after receiving the right-to-sue letter. You may seek such remedies as:
- Compensatory damages (such as lost wages);
- Punitive damages (to punish your employer); and/or
- Job reinstatement
Meanwhile, your employer may not fire or otherwise retaliate against you just for filing a claim against them.13
- Govt. Code 12945; see the California Family Rights Act (CFRA); California Senate Bill 1383 (2020). See also: California Federal Sav. & Loan Ass’n v. Guerra (1987) 479 U.S. 272; Rental Housing Owners Assn. of Southern Alameda County, Inc. v. City of Hayward (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 81.
- Cal. Code Regs., title 2, 11035.
- Cal. Code Regs., title 2, 11043.
- Govt. Code 12945.2;
- Cal. Code Regs., title 2, 11089; see the Employment Development Department (EDD); see the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
- Sanchez v. Swissport, Inc. (2013) 213 Cal.App.4th 1331, 1338-1341 (2013). Cal. Code Regs., title 2, 11068, 11069 & 11065. Govt. Code 12926, 12040.
- Same. Jensen v. Wells Fargo (2000) 85 Cal.App.4th 245, 263. See also: Nealy v. City of Santa Monica (2015) 234 Cal.App.4th 359; Hanson v. Lucky Stores, Inc. (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 215; Prilliman v. United Air Lines, Inc. (1997) 53 Cal.App.4th 935; Sterling Transit Co. v. Fair Employment Practice Com. (1981) 121 Cal.App.3d 791; Lui v. San Francisco (2012) 211 Cal.App.4th 962; Green v. State (2007) 42 Cal.4th 254; Wilson v. County of Orange (2009) 169 Cal.App.4th 1185; Gelfo v. Lockheed Martin Corp. (2006) 140 Cal.App.4th 34; Swanson v. Morongo Unified School Dist. (2014) 232 Cal.App.4th 954; Brundage v. Hahn (1997) 57 Cal.App.4th 228; Faust v. California Portland Cement Co. (2007) 150 Cal.App.4th 864; Scotch v. Art Institute of California-Orange County, Inc. (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 986; Swanson v. Morongo Unified School Dist. (2014) 232 Cal.App.4th 954.
- Cal. Code Regs., title 2, 11044 & 11069. Unemployment Insurance Code 2655 & 3301; Govt. Code 12945 & 12945.2.
- Cal. Code Regs., title 2, 11050, 11091, 11050, 11042 & 11035. Govt. Code 12926 & 12925.
- Govt. Code 12926.
- Cal. Code Regs., title 2, 11008.
- Govt. Code 12960.
- Govt. Code 12940, 12945, 12960, 12965 & 12926. Labor Code 1030. 29 U.S.C. § 207. Cal. Code Regs., title 2, 11008. CACI No. 2500. See also: Johnson Controls v. Fair Employment & Hous. Com (1990) 218 Cal.App.3d 517; Sandell v. Taylor-Listug, Inc. (2010) 188 Cal.App.4th 297; Knight v. Hayward Unified School Dist. (2005) 132 Cal.App.4th 121; Reno v. Baird (1998) 18 Cal.4th 640; Jones v. Lodge at Torrey Pines Partnership (2008) 42 Cal.4th 1158; Le Bourgeois v. Fireplace Mfg. (1998) 68 Cal.App.4th 1049; Page v. Superior Court (1995) 31 Cal.App.4th 1206; Roby v. McKesson Corp. (2009) 47 Cal.4th 686; Shephard v. Loyola Marymount Univ. (2002) 102 Cal.App.4th 837; Sada v. Robert F. Kennedy Med. Ctr. (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 138; Martin v. Lockheed Missiles & Space Co. (1994) 29 Cal.App.4th 1718; Williams v. City of Belvedere (1999) 72 Cal.App.4th 84.