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Maternity Leave Mayhem


Having trouble figuring out how much time you get to take off work for maternity leave? You’re not alone. I’m fairly certain that there are PhD dissertations that are shorter than the laws that govern maternity leave. After exchanging an exhausting number of emails with my company’s HR department, I have boiled it down into the below information. Note this information will probably be most helpful for you if you live in California. Please see the graphic I prepared which helped me explain this mess to my husband.

  • Disability – (in CA it’s called short-term disability or SDI and you may have noticed it on your pay stubs for years). Generally lasts 6 to 8 weeks post-birth (8 weeks tends to be for C-sections). Disability can start pre-birth, meaning your doctor can write you out of work up to 4 weeks (note – up to 4 weeks are allowed without medical reason in CA meaning you can take up to 4 weeks off before the birth just for being pregnant) (or whatever is medically necessary) before the birth, but regardless of how long you’re out pre-birth, you get the 6 to 8 weeks post-birth. The government will pay you up to 55% of your salary, but there is a cap. See this table to see how much you’ll make from disability per week – For more information on disability, here is the official website:
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – Nationwide. FMLA starts at the same time as disability and is 12 weeks of unpaid leave. If you go out on disability a month before the birth, you will only be covered by FMLA for 8 weeks after the birth. Your company must honour this law. (
  • California Family Rights Act (CFRA) – California only. CFRA starts when disability ends and includes 12 weeks of unpaid leave. (
  • Paid Family Leave (PFL) – California only. PFL provides partial pay up to 55% of your salary for 6 weeks using the same table as the disability payments (see above). You can take the PFL time up to the child’s 1st birthday, but your company is within their legal rights to force you to take it concurrently with the CFRA time which my company does do. If your company does not force you to take this time concurrently with the CFRA time then you can take it immediately after the CFRA time extending your time off by 6 weeks. You can also take it in hours, days or as a block of time. Check with your HR department on what your company allows. (

California and Federal Laws that Govern Maternity Leave

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate C. permalink
    05/11/2011 16:59

    FMLA does not apply if you have not worked for the business for at least 12 months and also if the business has less than 50 (? I think this is the cut-off) employees, they also don’t have to comply with FMLA, which I think is crazy, but you have to ‘protect small businesses’. Nevermind that means that in my state if you are female and work for a small business (less than 50 or whatever the magic number is) and it also offers no paid sick leave, then you could potentially get no time off after having a baby – or if you try to take some (even unpaid) the business can fire you, as I understand it.
    So yeah, protect the small businesses but screw the women. (Not officially the moto of the government, but it might as well be in some cases.)
    My work gives everyone 6 weeks paid sick leave in a 12 month period. And they consider having a baby to be ‘sick’ so that’s all that is given (so if you have to be on bedrest for a week beforehand, you’re down to 5 weeks post-baby PAID.) Then, after that, there’s FMLA for unpaid time, but only if you’ve been there a year (which I wasn’t when I had Lise). There are no other related laws in Iowa. California is slightly ahead of the rest of the country, but still behind many other countries.
    That being said, I don’t actually even take as much time as I’m allowed to for personal preferences.

  2. Jessica Navarro (nee Kingsborough) permalink
    05/11/2011 19:09

    Wow, I could have used a graphic like that while I was pregnant with our first! I planned to take my 12 weeks of FMLA following Dylan’s birth, but once he was actually born, I knew immediately I couldn’t go back to work anytime soon. The thought of someone else taking care of him terrified me (and I HATE pumping). I felt terrible leaving my coworkers and patients, but I think ultimately made the right decision for us…. And being a SAHM is hard work – much harder that I ever gave other Moms (including my own) credit for.

  3. Jennifer Boyd permalink
    08/05/2012 16:02

    Thankou for referring me to your blog today at the IHMC new member’s brunch! Much appreciated!

    • 08/05/2012 20:11

      You are most welcome. I hope you find it helpful!


  1. Maternity Leave Guilt « An Engineer's Approach to Pregnancy & Parenting

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