Pregnancy Leave

California’s birth rate may be decreasing, but questions about pregnancy accommodation, disability and leave remain steady. Employers in California with 50 or more employees face multiple overlapping laws involving a pregnant employee including California’s pregnancy leave law and family medical leave laws.  Applicability of the Federal Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and California Family Rights Act (CFRA) differs with pregnant employees and can create a trap for national employers resulting in potential liabilities. 

Pregnancy leave is covered by the federal FMLA.  However, California has a separate law – Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDLL) – applicable to pregnant employees.   CFRA, generally mirrors the federal statute. Outside of pregnancy, FMLA and CFRA contain similar provisions and leaves generally run concurrently. But pregnancy leave is another matter.

In California, a pregnant employee is entitled to take up to 16 weeks of leave due to a pregnancy related disability under California’s PDLL.  CFRA entitles an eligible employee to take up to 12 weeks of leave.  The issue California employers with 50+ employees need to understand is CFRA runs consecutively with the leave available under the PDLL for a pregnancy related disability.   For example, a pregnant employee under the PDLL may take up to 16 weeks of leave for a pregnancy related disability and then remain eligible under CFRA to take up to 12 additional weeks of leave to bond with her baby.  Thus, with certain exceptions, a pregnant employee may be eligible for up to 28 weeks of leave which equates to approximately seven months under California law. 

Understanding how the CFRA and PDLL interact is important for both employers and employees. Employers need to know the law to plan for job coverage accordingly, and avoid difficult conversations about returning to work because of misunderstanding of applicable laws. Pregnant women and new mothers need to understand their rights as employees so they can plan their lives as parents and knowledgably discuss their leaves with their employers.