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How Long is Maternity Leave in California?

February 21, 2023

California has some of the most comprehensive maternity leave laws in the United States. These laws are designed to provide new parents with the time they need to bond with their babies and adjust to their new roles in parenthood. 

For many mothers and fathers, these laws provide much needed financial support during the postpartum period. But understanding California’s maternity leave laws can be daunting. This article will provide an overview of the state’s maternity leave laws and explain what new parents need to know. 

We’ll cover topics such as eligibility, duration, job protection, and financial support. With this information, parents in California can make informed decisions about their parental leave.

What is California's Maternity Leave Law?

In California, a new parent is entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) to bond with their child. A “parent” is defined as an employee who has worked at least 12 months for their employer and has worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to starting leave. CFRA leave is available to employees working for employers with 5 or more employees.

Baby bonding leave can be taken increments or all at once within 12-months of the birth of the child and is available to both mothers and fathers.

For mothers who carry a child, they are also entitled to 4 months of unpaid leave under California Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL).  PDL does not run concurrent with CFRA baby bonding leave. The California Code of Regulations §7291.2g defines pregnancy as a disability as: "A woman is disabled by pregnancy if, in the opinion of her health care provider, she is unable because of pregnancy to work at all or is unable to perform any one or more of the essential functions of her job or to perform these functions without undue risk to herself, the successful completion of her pregnancy, or to other persons."

In the case of an uncomplicated pregnancy, an employee's PDL would begin at approximately the time of her delivery. After exhausting PDL (normally 6-8 weeks depending how the baby was delivered), CFRA leave would begin. In this case, the employee would be entitled to an additional 12 weeks of job-protected CFRA leave to bond with her child after the 6-8 weeks of PDL.

For employers with 50 or more employees, pregnant employees may also be entitled to leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  FMLA leave runs concurrent with PDL and CFRA leave.

Who is Eligible for Maternity Leave in California?

Most California employees are eligible for leave under the CFRA - as long as your employer has 5 or more employees. PDL also applies to all employers with at least 5 employees. Employers may also have their own leave policies. This means that some workers may be eligible for maternity leave under both the state law and their company’s policy.

Additionally, to qualify for CFRA bonding leave, the employee must have worked for their employer for at least one year and for at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months preceding the birth or the adoption of a child.   PDL does not have an employment duration requirement.

How Long is Maternity Leave in California?

It depends! The below chart gives an idea of the interplay of the various leaves available to parents in California.

Family and Medical Leave ActCalifornia Family Rights ActCalifornia Pregnancy Disability Leave
Pregnancy disability covered as a serious health condition?Yes, covers both pregnancy disability and birth or adoption.Pregnancy not a serious health condition. For baby bonding only.Yes, covers employees disabled by pregnancy only.
Covered employer50+ employees.5+ employees.5+ employees.
Eligible employee12 months and 1250 hours.12 months and 1250 hours.None.
Duration12 weeks.12 weeks.4 months.
Discrimination provisionNo provision for discrimination.No provision for discrimination.Pregnancy-related discrimination prohibited.
CertificationEmployer may require.Employer may require.Employer may require.
Employee notice30 days if foreseeable, or as soon as practicable.30 days if foreseeable, or as soon as practicable.30 days if foreseeable, or as soon as practicable.
Employer responseWithin 5 business days unless extenuating circumstances.As soon as practicable, no later than 10 calendar days.As soon as practicable, no later than 10 calendar days.
Intermittent/reduced leaveWhen medically necessary, in increments no greater than the shortest period of time that the employer uses to account for use of other forms of leave, provided that it is not greater than 1 hour. For baby bonding, must have employer's consent.For baby bonding, in 2-week increments; however, an employer may grant a request for CFRA leave of less than 2 weeks' duration on any 2 occasions.When medically necessary, increments no greater than the shortest period of time that the employer uses to account for use of other forms of leave, provided it is not greater than 1 hour.
Use of sick leaveEmployee may choose, or employer may require. Employer need not permit use of sick leave for reasons other than specified in leave policy.Employee may choose, or employer may require. Sick leave for other than employee's own medical illness requires both employer and employee to agree.Employer or employee may require use of paid sick leave. Employee may choose to substitute paid vacation or personal leave, but employer may not require.
Continuation of benefitsEmployer must maintain coverage under group health plan under same conditions. Can require employees to pay their portions of the premiums.Employer must maintain group health benefits and all other benefits and seniority under same conditions as applicable to other unpaid disability leaves.Employer must maintain group health benefits and all other benefits and seniority under same conditions as applicable to other unpaid disability leaves.
Right to reinstatementSame or equivalent position. Key employee exception.Same or comparable position. No key employee exception.Same or comparable position. Undue hardship defense.

What Financial Support is Available for New Parents in California?

A new parent is entitled to up to 8 weeks of paid disability leave through California Paid Family Leave (PFL). PFL is not a job protected leave and does not continue or extend a job protected leave under FMLA or CFRA.  Instead, it is income replacement that runs concurrently with protected leave under CFRA..

For mothers suffering from a pregnancy-related disability, there is also the possibility that they can qualify for disability benefits through Disability Insurance (DI) DI is available to all workers in California who pay into the disability insurance program. The program includes a short waiting period and a long-term portion.

What Other Forms of Leave are Available?

Short-Term Disability (STD) is another program provided by the state. Unlike DI, STD requires no waiting period and pays a portion of workers’ wages while they are out on leave. STD is available to workers who pay into the program. However, some employers may also provide STD coverage. Again, STD is not a protected leave and does not extend the duration of other leaves.

What Are the Rules for Returning to Work After Maternity Leave?

Whether workers return to work after maternity leave on their original schedule depends on the company’s policy. If there is no specific policy, the employee should discuss the issue with their employer. Employers must let workers know how long they may take off and when they must return to work. Some employers may require workers to provide a doctor’s note before taking off. Employees should also continue to speak with their employers as the return to work date draws closer.

Under PDL, an employee is entitled to return to her exact position.. After taking leave under CFRA or FMLA, the employee is entitled to return to the same job or a comparable job with comparable pay, benefits, and other conditions of employment.

An employer must also maintain an employee’s benefits while they are on PDL or CFRA leave.

What Are the Key Takeaways For New Parents in California?

California’s maternity leave law provides at least 12 weeks of leave to new parents. Employees must provide medical documentation if their employer asks for it. Employees should also inform their employers as soon as possible if they plan to take maternity leave. New parents may also qualify for income replacement through the State. 

California employers must provide leave for workers who have a new child. Employers must also keep workers’ jobs open while they are on leave. With California’s comprehensive maternity leave laws, new parents can get the time they need to adjust to their new roles and bond with their babies. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if I don't use all of my maternity leave?

After giving birth, some mothers find that they don’t need the leave period available to them. If this is the case, mothers can choose to end their leave early without consequences. However, employers may require pregnant workers to provide a doctor’s note to end their leave early. To avoid any complications, it is best to check with your company’s HR department before ending your leave.

Will I still get paid while on maternity leave?

No. California maternity leave is an unpaid leave. While there may be some California state benefits available to you, your employer does not have to pay you while on maternity leave.  Some employers do have policies that provide for compensation while on maternity leave, but that is an employee benefit and not something an employer has to provide..

How do I apply for maternity leave?

California’s parental leave law requires employers to notify their workers of their rights to maternity leave at least two months before the expected due date. So if you are expecting, make sure you check with your employer about the process for applying for maternity leave as soon as possible. 

What happens if I don't qualify for maternity leave?

If you don’t qualify for California’s protected maternity leave, paid parental leave and you don’t have short term disability, you can discuss with your employer about taking an unpaid leave. This is a difficult situation for many parents. However, it is important to remember that each person’s situation is unique. 

If you don’t qualify for maternity leave, there are other options. You may want to consider taking a leave of absence to stay home with your newborn. Alternatively, you can use vacation days and sick leave to cover your maternity leave. Or you may want to consider returning to work part-time if your partner is able to stay home with the baby.

Sending one of you to work while the other stays home may be easier than taking unpaid leave. These are all viable options, but they require careful planning. Make sure you understand California’s maternity leave law and your company’s policies before making any decisions. With this information, parents in California can make informed decisions about their parental leave.

Wrapping Up

The information above is an overview of California’s maternity leave laws. These laws are designed to provide new parents with the time they need to bond with their babies and adjust to their new roles. 

For many mothers and fathers, these laws provide much needed financial support during the postpartum period. There are, however, limitations and exceptions to these laws. It is important for parents to understand the state’s maternity leave laws. This way, parents can make informed decisions about their parental leave.

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