The state and federal laws that regulate disability leave related to pregnancy sometimes overlap and cause many employers and employees to question which law applies and what an employer’s obligations are under the California pregnancy disability leave laws.
California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDLL) applies to employers regularly employing five or more employees. It provides employees with up to four months of unpaid pregnancy disability leave for childbearing and pregnancy-related disabilities. Additionally, if a woman is affected by pregnancy or a related medical condition, the employee may also be eligible to transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position or duties. A woman is considered disabled by pregnancy if, in the opinion of her health care provider, she is unable, because of pregnancy, to work at all or is unable to perform one or more of the essential functions of her job or to perform these functions without undue risk to herself, the successful completion of her pregnancy, or to other persons.
Calculation of Four Months:
A “four-month leave” is defined as the number of days the employee would normally work within four months. For a full-time employee who works five eight-hour days per week, this would mean 88 workdays of leave entitlement based on an average of 22 working days per month for four months. Pregnancy disability leave may be taken all at once, intermittently, or on a reduced work schedule as determined by the employee’s health care provider.
Notice by Employer:
Employers must give notice to employees of their right to request pregnancy disability leave. Employers may do so by posting a notice in a conspicuous place where employees congregate, by providing a pregnant employee with a copy of such a notice as soon as practicable after learning of the pregnancy, and by including a description of pregnancy disability leave in any employee handbook. The Department of Fair Employment and Housing has a notice that employers can use. It can be found at
Notice by Employee:
Employers may require that employees who plan to take pregnancy disability leave provide the employer with at least verbal notice sufficient to make the employer aware of the employee’s need for pregnancy disability leave and the anticipated time and duration of the leave. If the need for the leave is foreseeable, the employee must provide at least 30 days’ advance notice before the leave is to begin.
Certification of Disability:
An employer may require an employee to obtain certification from her health care provider of her pregnancy disability or of the need to transfer her or provide her with a reasonable accommodation.
Use of Paid Time Off:
An employee may choose to use accrued vacation or other accrued time off as part of her pregnancy disability leave. Additionally, an employer may require the employee to use any available sick leave.
Additional Leave for Employees of Larger Employers:
Employers with 50 or more employees are subject to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). Although a pregnancy is a serious health condition that would qualify an employee for leave under the FMLA, FMLA leave runs concurrently with PDLL, as long as the employer has notified the employee that her PDLL is also being considered FMLA leave. In that case, the employee who uses all four months of PDLL will also have exhausted her FMLA leave. Under CFRA, an employee’s pregnancy is not considered a serious health condition that would allow her to take CFRA leave. Therefore, if an employee has exhausted the four months of PDLL, an employer is not required to allow an eligible employee to use CFRA leave prior to the birth of her child for her own disability. But if the child has been born by the end of the four months of PDLL, the employee can take baby bonding leave under CFRA.
Additional Leave as a Reasonable Accommodation:
Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), an employer may be required to provide additional leave to an employee with a pregnancy related disability after the expiration of the four-month leave, regardless of whether it is subject to the FMLA or CFRA. If the employee requests additional leave, the employer must engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine if it can provide a reasonable accommodation that will not cause the employer undue hardship.
Health Benefits During Pregnancy Disability Leave:
If an employer provides health insurance benefits for an employee, it must continue to do so, at the same level as if the employee were still working, while she is out on pregnancy disability leave.
Changes on the Horizon:
The California Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC) has proposed amendments to regulations that interpret the Pregnancy Disability Leave laws. If these regulations are adopted, the calculation of the “four months” may change resulting in an employee’s entitlement to more leave. The proposed regulations, if approved, will also provide employers with more guidance on the types of absences that qualify as pregnancy disability, and the types of accommodations that would be appropriate for an employee with a pregnancy-related disability. For more information on the proposed regulations, go to
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