California Maternity and Paternity Leave: Part 1 - An Overview

Though the United States Federal government doesn't call out specifically for paid maternity/paternity leave, there is a provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for parents of newborns and newly adopted children.

In California, parents of newborns have it a little better.  Mothers are given 4 weeks of paid leave before the estimated due date and  parents receive 6-8 weeks after the baby is born (6 weeks for vaginal birth and 8 weeks for c-sections.) That's a total of 10-12 weeks of paid leave for Mom and 6-8 weeks for Dad. And if the parents want to tag team, the leave doesn't need to be taken immediately after the baby is born nor does it need to be taken consecutively.

How does it work?

The Employment Development Department (EDD) administers both Paid Disability Leave and Paid Family Leave under State Disability Insurance (SDI). 

The first weeks of paid leave starts 4 weeks before the Mother's estimated due date, known as Paid Disability Leave (PDL).  Some women are eligible to start leave more than 4 weeks in advance and that requires a doctor's certification.

The 6 to 8 weeks after birth is covered under Paid Family Leave (PFL) and both parents are eligible.  The purpose of PFL is for bonding with the new baby.

Who is eligible?

Most California workers pay California State Disability Insurance through the withholdings on their paychecks.  Basic eligibility is based on being unable to work for 8 consecutive days, having experienced lost wages and have earned at least $300 in which SDI was paid in the base period.  Additional eligibility requirements can be found here.

Self employed individuals and those who have not paid into SDI are eligible for paid leave if they have paid for elective coverage called Disability Insurance Elective Coverage (DIEC).  The cost is detailed here.

How much is paid leave?

At the bare minimum, paid leave is about 55% of the claimant's weekly income calculated based off the highest quarter of earnings in the 12 month period prior to the claim date. There is also an income cap, so if you make over about $101K a year, the max payment per week is $1067. You can find the weekly benefits chart here detailing the weekly payment amount.

An interesting thing I found out far too late in my baby making process is that there is supplemental disability insurance that is available to some California workers (the instances in which they are available range from employer provided voluntary plans to some types of elective coverage) which will either lengthen the period of paid leave and/or increase the payments to 80% of the claimant's lost income.  Also, in some cases supplemental coverage can remove the income cap previously mentioned.

Is it taxable?

This is a fairly complicated question.  As far as I've been explained, PDL and PFL do not have withholdings when issued.  Under certain circumstances, PDL is not taxable but PFL is subject to federal taxes but not state taxes.  Since the taxes have not been withheld, the claimant usually sees the tax liability hit in the following year when filing their taxes.

Next up, a functional guide to filing for PDL and PFL.

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