How to Switch Unemployment Claims to Disability Claims in California

Man is filling in Disability insurance form.
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California does not allow anyone to collect unemployment insurance (UI) benefits and disability benefits at the same time. UI claimants have to wait until they no longer qualify for UI to apply for State Disability Insurance (SDI). They must also show proof of their eligibility to receive SDI as they would UI. However, the eligibility requirements for both programs are vastly different.

SDI vs. UI Benefit Programs in California

The California Employment Development Department (EDD) administers the state's Disability Insurance program. SDI serves as a partial wage replacement for those who can't work due to mental or physical illness or injury. Unemployment benefits are a partial wage replacement for someone who has lost their job through no fault of their own.

SDI covers most workers in California, but they must still meet its eligibility requirements. As with UI, certain workers cannot receive SDI, for example, independent contractors, student workers, domestic workers and people who work for a political campaign. Businesses can exclude themselves from offering SDI coverage if they give workers comparable private plan benefits. Immigration status and citizenship do not affect SDI eligibility in California.

Work Availability Differences for SDI and UI

The biggest difference between UI and SDI eligibility is the reason the person no longer works and if they are available to take another job. UI benefits require claimants to show that they are available, willing and able to work, while someone applying for SDI has to show legitimate reasons as to why they cannot work.

SDI provides temporary benefits to workers who, because of a disability that is not a result of their job, cannot perform their job duties. The state gives unemployment insurance benefits to workers who have lost their job through no fault of their own and intend to continue working. Because these two requirements are opposed, the state prohibits collecting SDI and UI payments at the same time.

Eligibility Requirements for SDI

To qualify for SDI in California, a claimant must:

  • Show they cannot perform their regular job for a minimum of eight consecutive days.
  • Show work search activity or proof of employment at the time of disability.
  • Show they lost wages due to their disability.
  • Show they earned a minimum of $300, from which the state withheld disability insurance deductions.
  • Show they are under the treatment or care of a religious practitioner or doctor.
  • Complete and send their claim form to the EDD within 49 days of their disability date.
  • Have their doctor complete a section on the form that certifies their disability.

Not all applicants are eligible for SDI benefits. Some of the reasons may include:

  • No actual wage loss. An applicant who continues to work and receives a salary equal to or more than their benefit payment cannot collect SDI.
  • Claiming or receiving UI or Paid Family Leave (PFL) benefits.
  • Becoming disabled while committing a crime that results in a felony conviction.
  • Being in jail, prison or a recovery home as a result of their conviction.
  • Receiving workers' compensation payments that are greater or equal to SDI benefits.
  • Failing to complete a medical examination.

Pregnancy and Paid Family Leave

A pregnant woman can receive SDI two to four weeks before giving birth and four weeks after she has her child; if she has a cesarean section, she is eligible for six weeks of benefits. Licensed midwives, nurse-midwives and nurse practitioners can fill out the medical certification part of the form when she files for SDI.

Paid Family Leave is a part of the state's SDI program. It gives benefits to workers who must stop working to care for a child or an adult family member and to take part in a qualifying event due to a family member's military deployment.

Amount of State Disability Insurance Benefits

An eligible person can get SDI benefits for a maximum of eight weeks. Benefits amount to between 60 to 70 percent of their highest weekly earnings five to 18 months before they filed their claim. This time is known as the claimant's base period.

If the applicant worked two jobs during their base period, the EDD would look at their earnings from both to calculate the amount. However, the limit is $1,357 a week no matter how much they earn. Applicants can look at the EDD's SDI benefits chart to calculate how much they'll get based on their earnings.

Claimants can receive SDI payments for up to 52 weeks. Self-employed people who pay into SDI can get benefits for up to 39 weeks. Applicants in substance abuse rehab can get benefits for only 90 days unless their addiction is a medically certified disability.

SDI Benefits and Integrated Earnings

If a worker gets paid sick time or holiday pay while receiving SDI benefits, the state will subtract that money from their benefit amount – this also applies to part-time work. Applicants can request the EDD to integrate their benefits with their income from sick days or holiday pay. They can ask their employer to pay a specific amount in either, so when they combine those payments with their benefits, they will receive almost what they made in their typical salary or earnings.

When filling out their application, they should check "Integrated Benefits" to show the types of pay their employer provides to them. Applicants can receive sick time or holiday pay for the first seven days of their disability, as SDI benefits do not start until the eighth day.

If a worker gets paid vacation benefits, it will not affect their SDI payments. However, those who get Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) may find that California will subtract these benefits from their SDI payment.