California Law: Maternity Leave

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Individuals find themselves with numerous concerns once they’re expecting a new baby. Among these are the parents’ own employment, including time off and income they may need in order to provide for the new baby. All of these concerns overlap, and a major part of it is controlled by maternity leave laws in California, as well as across the United States.

What Is Maternity Leave?

The entire experience of being pregnant tends to be full of worries, financial expenses and ongoing responsibilities. This isn’t just about the child itself; it’s difficult on parents before, during and after the birth. The time parents are able to spend with the baby immediately after birth (or on arrival, if adoption is occurring) has a profound effect on parent-child bonding, as well as the child’s general health going forward. That's why it’s important for new parents to spend as much time as possible with a new baby to give everyone involved the best chances.

Maternity leave is the period of time granted to a parent upon the arrival of a new child. The name implies leave taken after a mother gives birth to a new baby, but can also extend to new fathers, as well as to parents who have chosen to adopt a child. Maternity leave is regulated by U.S. federal labor laws. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a mother of a new child – whether by birth or adoption – when employed by a company with over 50 employees. For companies with fewer than 50 employees, state laws determine whether FMLA still applies.

What Is Unpaid Leave?

Unpaid leave means that the new mother can be absent from her job for up to the 12-week maximum without having to worry about losing her position with the company. However, while the company will hold her place within the organization, she receives no income during that time period. Employees on unpaid leave maintain their benefits, but are not paid until they return to their work responsibilities.

It’s worth noting that the World Health Organization recommends at least 16 weeks of leave as a minimum, and that many other nations offer paid leave to ensure the health and financial security of the parents and the child. In the United States, while the FMLA only requires 12 weeks of unpaid leave, companies have started to offer more time and partially or fully paid leave as part of their competitive benefits package to attract more long-term employees.

The FMLA regulations also apply to the father or other legal spouse involved; the law defines a parent as the biological, adoptive, stepparent or foster parent who stood in place of a parent. Since 2015, it includes same-sex marriages. The father or other parent is also granted 12 weeks of unpaid leave as well by federal law, and other allowances may be granted by a state or the parent's company.

Use of Paid Leave

Some companies allow employees to use their paid leave, such as unused sick time, vacation time or personal business during their federally protected FMLA leave so they can continue to receive pay. However, the leave must be taken while still obeying all company policies regarding time off, extended leave and advance notice. In addition, some companies can require an individual to use this paid time during their FMLA leave, so understanding company policy is critical to planning.

Read More: FMLA Regulations for Intermittent Leave

What Is Pregnancy Leave?

While maternity or paternity leaves come into play after the birth of a baby, some federal and state laws also protect the pregnant parent during the pregnancy under certain conditions. In cases where the mother experiences complications that result in a prenatal serious health condition as determined by a doctor, the FMLA allows leave to be taken like it does for most serious medical conditions.

Depending on the situation, however, this leave may come out of the 12 weeks granted for post-birth parental leave, so it’s important to check company policy to plan appropriately. Pregnancy complications, like ordered bed rest or chronic morning sickness can easily qualify for FMLA leave. There are no federal laws requiring that pregnancy leave be paid, but some states or companies offer partial or fully paid leave depending on the situation.

Maternity, Paternity and Parental Leave in California

The state of California offers much better parental leave than most states and has significant add-ons to the federal minimum benefits that give a number of options to new parents. In California, different types of leaves involving pregnancy are available:

  • Pregnancy disability: Employees with a disability related to their pregnancy or childbirth are eligible for up to four months of leave while that disability is still occurring, as long as rules involving medical and doctor statements are followed. In this case the disability must prevent the individual from completing one essential task without risk to themselves or their unborn child. This is unpaid time, although company policies may offer partial pay.
  • Family leave: Employees may take up to 12 weeks of family leave after the birth to bond with the baby, as long as they work for companies that employ more than 20 people. California law includes a short-term disability insurance program that pays a portion of owed wages for temporary disability, which includes pregnancy and related issues. This program also provides paid leave for up to six weeks for parents who take time off after childbirth. Depending on how this leave interacts with the other types of leave, it can provide up to 12 additional weeks.
  • Reasonable accommodation leave: If an employee ends up with a pregnancy-related disability after birth, she may be entitled to additional leave time even after other types of leave have been taken. Up to four months of leave can be offered for related disability.

Pregnancy Leave in California

Pregnancy leave in California as of 2019 means that the pregnant parent can take up to seven months of protected time off for a new child, for both pregnancy and birth, as well as for adoption. It depends entirely on the progress of the pregnancy and the parent's health during and after the birth.

California offers additional protections for fathers. Paternity leave includes same-sex spouses despite the fact that the name implies biological fathers. The main difference between maternal leave and paternal leave is with regard to the childbearing pregnant spouse, rather than to the other, non-childbearing partner. For example, the non-childbearing partner cannot be entitled to disability leave with regard to the pregnancy, whereas the pregnant mother can.

Aggregate Leave Laws

In California, the aggregate amount of paternity or other-parental leave is 12 weeks. Three different laws relate to paternal protection in California, but they don’t necessarily combine, so the maximum leave is 12 weeks of unpaid time. Depending on the company, some of this time may be paid, but it depends on eligibility and company policies.

In general, all employees are offered these 12 weeks to cover a certain set of circumstances:

  • To bond with a child that is the responsibility of that individual through birth, adoption or foster care.
  • To care for a parent, spouse or child with some qualifying health condition.
  • To moderate a serious health condition that prevents the employee from performing essential functions of his job. 

California Leave Insurance Program

The California leave insurance program provides partial pay to those intending to take parental leave, depending on the size of the company, the length of time the employee has worked there, and the company’s own rules on leave.

Paid Disability Leave: Requires a disability under certain requirements; offers up to 55 percent of an individual’s salary for up to four months total; can be up to 70 percent depending on the employee’s income level.

Paid Family Leave: Pays 55 percent of an individual’s salary for up to six weeks after birth; can pay up to 70 percent depending on how the individual’s salary compares to the state average.

Federal FMLA: Unpaid, but protects one’s employment for up to 12 weeks total within a one-year period.

Overall, the pregnant mother may take up to seven months of protected, partially paid maternity leave time around her pregnancy, depending on whether complications lead to a technical disability. The nonpregnant parent may take up to 12 weeks of protected, partially paid paternity leave around the pregnancy. Time before the delivery can be taken if the pregnant partner requires care under FMLA; if the whole 12-week leave is not used up, it may be taken after the birth to bond with the child and care for the mother.

Keep in mind that these benefits also apply to new parents who are adopting a child, as well as to foster parents and pregnancy surrogates. While disability may not apply in those cases without the physical complications that can come with pregnancy, the time post-arrival of the child is protected equally. This is because adoption and fostering still benefit from the parental bonding time once the child arrives.

How to Apply for Maternity Leave In California

Applying for maternity leave in California is fairly straightforward, but it requires knowledge of the company’s benefits and protections, as well as legal protections. The first step is to apply for the state’s disability insurance and paid family leave, which requires making a claim with the state:

  1. The first step is to obtain the claim from the individual’s employer or physician; the form can also be applied for online. 
  2. Obtain all the relevant information needed to complete the form and complete the claim as it applies to the situation. 
  3. Mail the completed claim to the address indicated. Information about the claim will be sent to the household, informing the pregnant parent of her insurance coverage.

Maternity Leave and Employers

After making the claim with the state, it’s time to contact the employer and determine its policies toward maternity leave and paternity leave. The company's human resources department should be able to help the employee develop an absence plan that integrates their rights and protections from the state with the company’s own offerings regarding parental leave.

In the case where paid leave is applicable, the benefits will be paid out from a statewide fund and can arrive via mail or direct deposit. Any paid leave the company offers will arrive in the same manner as a normal paycheck.

Overall, California is a generous state with regard to employment protection when welcoming a new child into the family. State protections are extensive in comparison to other states, and some companies add additional paid support. In addition, both parents have job protection upon arrival of the child in both same-sex and opposite-sex marriages. It requires some research into the options available and negotiation with the employer to ensure everything is covered, but the state ensures protected time. After all, no one wants to worry about their employment protection when they’re already worrying about – and loving – a brand new addition to the family.

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