Under California law, employers with at least five employees must allow employees to take up to four months of unpaid leave per pregnancy. In addition, larger California employers (those with at least 50 employees) have to provide up to 12 additional weeks of parenting leave to employees who are covered by the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). Because these two types of leave are separate entitlements, employees may be eligible for a total of seven months of time off for pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting.
Pregnancy disability leave is available only while the employee is temporarily unable to work due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions. This leave can be taken all at once, or intermittently as needed. For example, the employee may take time off for morning sickness and prenatal doctor visits.
An employee need not be completely incapacitated or bedridden to qualify for leave. If the employee is unable to perform at least one of the essential functions of her job without undue risk of harm to herself, coworkers, or the succesful completion of her pregnancy, she qualifies for leave.
After the leave, the employer must reinstate the employee to the same position unless the position has been eliminated or the employer has other legitimate business reasons for not returning the employee to her former position. In this situation, the employer must reinstate the employee to a comparable position.
Under the California Family Rights Act, certain larger employers must allow eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period to bond with a new child. This leave right is separate from -- and in addition to -- the right to pregnancy disability leave.
Employers often make the mistake of counting time off for pregnancy leave towards an employee's right to parenting leave under the CFRA. This would be correct under federal law: The federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees to take time off for a number of reasons, including parenting and the employee's own health condition (which includes pregnancy disability leave). However, employees may not use CFRA leave for pregnancy disability. So, when their pregnancy disability leave ends, they will still have 12 weeks of CFRA leave to use for bonding with their child.
If an employee is temporarily disabled by pregnancy and childbirth for four full months, she may be entitled to a total of seven months of unpaid leave from her employer. In some cases, the employer may have to offer even more time off if it is necessary as a reasonable accommodation for a disability under the circumstances. An employee might also be entitled to more leave if the employer agrees to it, the employer's policies provide for it, or the employer provides more leave for different types of disabilities.
There are a lot of statutes, rules, and regulations that apply to pregnancy leaves, medical leaves and disability accommodation leaves in California. If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, you might want to consult with an experienced employment lawyer to make sure you understand your rights.
For more in-depth information, see our section on Family and Medical Leave Laws.