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Understanding Maternity Leave In California

In addition to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), California has state laws surrounding pregnancy and parenting leave. On January 1, 2018, California enacted the New Parent Leave Act (NPLA) to widen the scope of the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). This expands on the FMLA guidelines to include providing unpaid leave benefits to eligible employees that work for smaller companies (twenty or more employees). Under California law, employers are required to provide eligible employees who take FMLA continued group healthcare coverage and offer the same job upon the employee’s return that he or she had prior to commencing his or her leave. California Paid Family Leave (PFL) is available for eligible employees to provide partial wage replacement benefits to bond within the first year of a child joining a family (through birth, foster care placement, or adoption).

How Long Is Parental Bonding Leave?

Many companies will include paid time off (PTO) for parental bonding time as part of an employee’s benefits package, separate from federal or state mandates. Under California state law, employers with five employees or more must allow an employee leave for as long as they are disabled by pregnancy, up to four months of unpaid leave per pregnancy. Furthermore, employers with at least 50 employees or more must provide an additional twelve weeks of parental bonding leave to employees covered under the CFRA. Due to the fact that these are separate entitlements, some employees in California may be eligible for a total of seven months of unpaid leave for pregnancy or childbirth. There are numerous regulations that apply to pregnancy leaves and parental bonding leaves mandated in federal and state law.


The FMLA affords certain employees with job protection for a period of up to twelve weeks per year of unpaid leave. The purpose of FMLA is to help employees manage family responsibilities during times where work leave is necessary. According to the U.S Department of Labor, FMLA is required for all eligible employees in public agencies, private and public schools, as well as companies with fifty or more employees. An employer must provide up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave each year for any of the following reasons:

  • To provide care for a serious health condition of an immediate family member (i.e., child, spouse, or parent)
  • For the birth and/ or care of an employee’s newborn child
  • For adoption or foster care placement of a child with an employee
  • To take medical leave when an employee has developed a serious health condition resulting in an inability to work

An employee must have worked for his or her employer for a minimum of twelve months, or at least 1,250 hours over the past twelve months. Additionally, the employee must work at a location where the company employs fifty or more employees within a 75-mile radius. Although FMLA is unpaid, qualified employees can use any accrued and unused paid leave (i.e. sick time, vacation days, etc.) during FMLA.

California Paid Family Leave

The California Paid Family Leave (PFL) Act guarantees compensation to offset lost wages due to taking a leave from work for qualified reasons. PFL does not provide job protection to employees; however, employees may use this benefit to obtain income while taking leaves protected under the FMLA or CFRA. Many employees are required to pay State Disability Insurance (SDI) in the form of deductions from their paychecks. One of the stipulations for being eligible for PFL is that the employee pays SDI taxes, as this is the entire source for funding California PFL. Typically, California PFL pays approved employees between 60 and 70 percent of their weekly salary, with a maximum of $1,300 per week. PFL can be taken by an employee intermittently, provided it is within the first 12 months of a child entering a family, or all at once. Employers are also free to provide supplemental pay to employees on PFL to enable an employee to receive up to full pay during the time he or she is out.

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