Pregnancy disability leave (PDL) is time off work that a woman takes while “disabled” as a result of her pregnancy or the birth of a child. In California, an employee who is disabled as a result of pregnancy can take up to 4 months of leave so long as she remains disabled.1
Pregnancy disability leave is generally unpaid – meaning the employer is not required to pay the worker while she is out on leave. But the employer is required to maintain any existing medical coverage and health benefits.2
Employees may also be entitled to post-childbirth leave under California’s leave laws for new parents.3
This type of leave is available in the state of California when two requirements are met:
- the employee is disabled by:
- childbirth, or
- a related medical condition; and
- the employer is covered by California’s PDL law.4
A woman is disabled by her pregnancy if:
- in the opinion of her physician,
- she is unable to perform one or more of the essential job functions of her job
- because of her pregnancy.5
Under California law, employers required to provide PDL include those:
- who regularly employ 5 or more people,
- who — whether a person or business — act as an agent of a covered employer, or
- who are state or local governmental entities.6
Certain religious nonprofit associations and corporations may not be considered “employers” for purposes of PDL.7
Note that employees in California are entitled to more pregnancy leave under state law (PDL) than under federal Family and Medial Leave Act (FMLA). And CFRA (the California Family Rights Act) does not provide for pregnancy leave at all:
|Qualifying event||Pregnancy||Serious health condition not including pregnancy||Serious health condition, including pregnancy|
|Minimum size of employer||5 employees||5 employees||50 employees|
|Length of employment required||None||12 months and 1,250 hours over prior year||12 months and 1,250 hours over prior year|
|Maximum leave||4 months||12 weeks||12 weeks|
Below, our California employment and labor lawyers will answer the following five key frequently-asked questions (faqs):
- 1. What is pregnancy disability leave (PDL)?
- 2. What is a disability?
- 3. What employers must comply with California’s pregnancy disability leave law?
- 4. Will I be able to get my old job back after my leave?
- 5. Can I get paid during leave?
- 6. PDL versus CFRA and FMLA
Pregnancy disability leave (PDL) is:
- time off work that a woman takes,
- as a result of a pregnancy-related disability,
- for as long as the disability continues.
This period of time off of work is designed to protect the health of the mother and the unborn baby when “mom” is unable to perform her “essential job functions.”8
A disability-related to pregnancy exists when:
- in the opinion of her health care provider,
- the employee is unable to perform one or more essential job functions of her position,
- because of her pregnancy.9
At around week 36 of the pregnancy, it is very common for women to begin to experience issues that can rise to the level of a disability. Employers can ask employees for written medical certification from their doctor confirming that they have a disability.10
There are many different types of issues that may cause pregnant employees to be unable to perform their job. Some of the most common examples are:
- severe morning sickness,
- doctor-ordered bed rest,
- diabetes (gestational),
- post-partum depression,
- emotional recovery from miscarriage
- pregnancy-induced hypertension, or
- other serious health conditions.11
This list is not exclusive. So long as the employee is unable to perform at least one essential job function, she is considered disabled under California law.12 Note that employees should give their bosses at least 30 days advance notice if possible that they need PDL.13
Yes. Unlike many other laws concerning leave, part-time employees are eligible for pregnancy disability leave. A minimum number of hours is not required in order to be eligible employees.14
Even brand new employees are eligible for leave if they have a disability.15
California employers are required to provide pregnancy disability leave if:
- the employer regularly employs 5 or more people;
- the employer is a person or business who is an agent of a covered employer; or
- the employer is a state or local governmental entity.16
Certain private religious associations or corporations organized for profit are not considered employers under the law. As a result, they are not required to provide pregnancy leave.17
Female employees who take time off of work as a result of a pregnancy-related disability are entitled to:
- return to their same position (reinstatement); or
- be placed in a position comparable to their old position.18
Most employees are able to return to their prior position after their weeks or months of leave, but sometimes that is not possible.
4.1 What happens if I am moved to a new position?
If an employee is not given his or her exact same job back after leave, the position must be comparable. This “job protection” means:
- the same hourly rate or salary;
- the same benefits;
- similar or identical duties;
- similar experience and education requirements; and
- no “demotion” as part of the change.19
In some cases, employees agree to be moved to a new position for their own reasons or because the new position offers:
- better benefits,
- higher pay, or
- other beneficial opportunities.
4.2 Are there exceptions to this rule?
In limited circumstances, an employee can be laid off during pregnancy disability leave.5 These include situations where:
- there are mass layoffs occurring during the employee’s leave;
- the position was set to be eliminated at a preset time and is wholly unrelated to the employee being on leave; or
- there is no comparable position available.
These exceptions are strictly limited. California law sets forth strong protections for employees who take leave, and exceptions to the right to take leave are rare.20
Under California state law, employers are not required to pay an employee during his or her leave in most circumstances. Whether employers offer paid leave or unpaid leave, they are required to maintain:
- full medical coverage, and
- all other health benefits.21
It is also possible, depending on the circumstances, that an employee could receive compensation from:
- California’s short-term disability insurance (SDI) program; or
- temporary disability pay (if the employee has it through his or her employer); or
- the employee’s accrued paid time off (PTO), such as for sick days (sick leave) and vacation pay.
If you are unsure about whether you qualify for California pregnancy disability leave, your employment attorney at the Shouse Law Group can help you get the leave rights and compensation you deserve.
|Size of company||5 or more employees||5 or more employees.||50 or more employees|
|Length of employment to obtain leave||No minimum required||12 months and 1,250 hours over prior year||12 months and 1,250 hours over prior year|
|Qualifying event||Pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions||Serious health condition (which does not include pregnancy)||Serious health condition (which includes pregnancy)|
|Maximum leave||4 months||12 weeks||12 weeks|
|Group health insurance during leave||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Notice to employer||30 days if possible||30 days if possible||30 days if possible|
|Other accommodations||Intermittent leave, time off for medical appointments, and reduced work hours||Intermittent leave||Intermittent leave if medically necessary|
|Can employer require doctor’s note?||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Statute of limitations to file complaint||3 years||3 years||2 years (3 years if employer acted willfully)|
|Mediation required?||No||Yes, if employer has 5 to 19 employees||No|
|Emotional distress & punitive damages available?||Yes||Yes||No, but economic damages include a doubling of back-pay22|
Call us for help…
For questions about workplace leave laws in California or to confidentially discuss your case with one of our employment attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at the Shouse Law Group.
Our employment law attorneys have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
Also see our article on California maternity leave laws. We discuss paid family leave (PFL) / parental leave / bonding leave for a new child.
- California Department of Fair Employment and Housing
- California Family Rights Act (CFRA)
- Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Employment Development Department (EDD)
- Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
- California State Disability Insurance program
- 2 CCR 11042.
- 2 CCR 11039.
- California Government Code 12945.6.
- See note 1.
- Cal. Code of Regs., tit. 2, § 11035(f).
- 2 CCR 11305.
- California Government Code 12926.
- See note 1. Sanchez v. Swissport, Inc. (
- See note 5.
- See note 6.
- See note 5.
- 2 CCR 11050.
- 2 CCR 11037.
- See note 6.
- See note 7.
- 2 CCR 11043. Bareno v. San Diego Community College Dist. (
- See note 2.
- Gov. Code § 12945.2; Gov. Code § 12945; Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2 §11087; Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2 § 11035 & 11037; Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2 § 11090; Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2 § 11042; Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2 §11092; Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2 § 11044; Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2 § 11089; Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2 § 11043; Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2 § 11091; Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2 § 11050; 29 U.S.C. § 2611; 29 C.F.R. § 825.110; 29 U.S.C. § 2612; 29 C.F.R. § 825.701; 29 C.F.R. § 825.113; 29 C.F.R. § 825.202(c); 29 U.S.C. § 2612(e)(1); 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(1); 29 U.S.C. § 2614(a)(2); C.F.R. §825.209(h); 29 C.F.R. § 825.214 & 825.216; 29 U.S.C. § 2641(a)(4); 29 C.F.R. § 825.306.