Friday, June 1, 2012

Maternity Leave in California

I started off doing research about maternity leave and what I can and cannot take as a new mother.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), I got a little off topic (as I oftentimes find myself) and wrote two other blog posts regarding maternity leave and breastfeeding and working mothers.  In the process of researching this topic, I learned a lot about what is available to me and found that little has changed since I last took maternity leave in 2010 after the birth of my first child.  Since I live in the state of California, I was able to take 19 weeks of maternity leave.  I took 1 week (it was supposed to be two but he came a week early) off before the baby was born and 18 weeks after he was born.

I'm lucky to live in California because it was recently voted the best state that supports working mothers by the National Partnership for Women and Families.  They were given this designation because of their job-protected leave provisions, flexible sick leave program, nursing-at-work rights and ability to allow pregnant workers to request a transfer to a less strenuous job if possible.

Despite that designation, I still find the options available to me very confusing.  I am not a lawyer and sometimes I feel like you have to be one to decipher what can be done.  I consulted the legal aid website and still find myself confused.  In one of my previous posts, I mentioned FMLA.  "FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. Eligible employees are entitled to twelve workweeks of leave in a 12-month period."  This is a federal act.

California has other provisions that can be used by a mother on maternity leave.  The first is State Disability Insurance (SDI).  "The Disability Insurance program provides affordable, short-term benefits to eligible workers who suffer a loss of wages when they are unable to work due to a non work-related illness or injury, or due to pregnancy or childbirth."  Women who are pregnant may start receiving disability benefits in the state of California before delivery and for a specified length of time after delivery (depending if vaginal or cesarean delivery).  "The usual disability period for a NORMAL pregnancy is up to four weeks before the expected delivery date and up to six weeks after the actual delivery. However, your doctor may certify to a longer period if the delivery is by Cesarean section, if there are medical complications, or if you are unable to perform your regular or customary job duties."  "Disability Insurance (DI) benefits are not taxable except when considered to be a substitute for unemployment compensation when paid to an individual who is ineligible for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits solely because of the disability."  This program is funded through a mandatory payroll deduction.  "SDI deductions are not pre-taxed."  The contribution is taken out after federal, state and social security taxes are deducted.  An interesting thing to note is "the first seven days of your disability claim are a 'non payable' waiting period."  The state has a list of eligibility requirements listed on their website.  They also have instructions on how to file a claim.

California also offers the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) which is administered by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.  This Act is similar to FMLA in that it has the same eligibility rules and allows 12-weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave.  This act was initiated so mothers could spend more time with their baby to "bond."  This is sometimes referred to as "baby bonding."  FMLA kicks in even if a mother suffers complications from her pregnancy and is required to take take time off BEFORE her pregnancy.  As a result of this, many mothers who suffered pregnancy complications did not have much time AFTER birth to spend with their baby.  CFRA kicks in AFTER State Disability (SDI) has been completed.  This runs concurrently with FMLA in the period AFTER delivery.  It does not give someone a total of 24 weeks of leave but it can extend FMLA once the FMLA leave has been exhausted.  The amount of extra leave depends on "how much time you take off before the baby is born, when the baby is born, and the type of delivery, you may get a few weeks less of job-protected leave."

Another leave that the state of California offers is Paid Family Leave (PFL).  It entitles eligible employees 6 paid weeks of benefits in a 12 month period.  Employees covered by the State Disability Insurance Program (SDI) are eligible for paid family leave.  This leave can be used by both the mother of the baby and the spouse or partner of the person who had the baby.  There is a 7-calendar day waiting period before benefits will be distributed.  However, there is no 7-day waiting period if you are "transitioning from a DI pregnancy claim into a PFL bonding claim."  "Claimants will automatically be sent a Claim for Paid Family Leave (PFL) Benefits when a pregnancy-related disability claim ends."  PFL does not offer job protection.  Job protection is given through FMLA or CFRA which must be taken concurrently with PFL.  "Paid Family Leave (PFL) benefits are taxable for federal purposes but not state tax purposes. The EDD will provide all claimants with a 1099G form and forward a copy of the 1099G to the federal IRS. The PFL benefits are not taxable or reportable to the California State Franchise Tax Board."  The following link contain instructions on how to file a claim.  There is also a great website with some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) regarding PFL.

It is important to note that if you are receiving any wages from your employer such as "sick leave, bereavement pay, back pay, earnings (full or partial return to work)," then it must be reported when applying for SDI or PFL.

This table lists the expected benefit amounts while receiving Disability Insurance (DI ) or Paid Family Leave (PFL) benefits.  "The weekly benefit amount is calculated based on the calendar quarter with the highest earnings in the claimant’s base period. The base period covers 12 months and is divided into four consecutive quarters of three months each. The wages the claimant was paid approximately 5 to 18 months before the claim begins are included in the base period (they must be subject to the State Disability Insurance tax)."

This is all very confusing so I'll try my best to summarize the information presented above.
State Disability Insurance (SDI) - Eligible for benefits beginning 4 weeks before expected due date and continuing for 6-8 weeks (depending on delivery) after the baby is born.  There is a 1 week "waiting period."
Paid Family Leave (PFL) - Eligible for 6 weeks of benefits.  No "waiting period" if taken after SDI.
FMLA - 12 weeks of job-protected leave
California Family Rights Act (CFRA) - 12 weeks of job-protected leave (may run concurrently with FMLA) but starts after SDI ends.
Total leave if vaginal delivery:  4+6+6+6=4 before + 18 weeks after = 22 weeks (15 total weeks paid*)
Total leave if csection delivery: 4+8+6+6=4 before + 20 weeks after (17 total weeks paid*)
*Total weeks paid takes into consideration the 1 week waiting period.

The legal aid society has a great fact-sheet on your legal rights regarding paid leave.  The state also tried putting together a table comparing FMLA and CFRA.  However, I found the table confusing and found the following graphic to be better in summarizing the leave scenarios.  I tried linking the actual picture but it is copyrighted so you'll have to click on the graphic link above.

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