Q: "I have been working for a large company for about three years. I just learned that I'm pregnant, and I let my manager know yesterday. She didn't seem very happy about the news and just gave me a stack of papers to read. I'm confused about my pregnancy-leave rights and worried about my job. Can you please explain how much time off I can take and when?" — Anonymous
A: Sarah, this is a good question, and you are not alone in feeling confused: Even the most sophisticated employers often miscalculate pregnancy leave or don't fully understand the relationship between the several leave laws that may apply. Let's discuss some of the basics about pregnancy leave this week. Next week, I'll address some of the common workplace disputes that arise for pregnant employees and their families.
Pregnancy leave rights are covered under both federal and state laws. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is the federal law that can provide for certain pregnancy leave. In California, pregnancy leave is generally covered under the pregnancy disability leave law (PDL) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). Generally, if you work for a large employer, the various leave laws together can provide for almost seven months of leave, but each case needs to be analyzed individually.
The FMLA provides 12 weeks of job-protected leave to care for a serious health condition. Any period of incapacity due to pregnancy, prenatal care or maternity leave for the birth of a child would be considered qualifying FMLA leave. You are eligible for the FMLA if your employer has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of your worksite, you have worked for your employer for at least 12 consecutive months and you have worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to the first date of leave.
The PDL provides leave for pregnancy and pregnancy-related medical conditions when a woman is actually disabled. Under the PDL, an employee may take job-protected leave for up to four months due to pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition. Conditions that may render an employee disabled by pregnancy may include severe morning sickness, post-partum depression, gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension, childbirth, recovery from childbirth, and loss or end of a pregnancy. You also can take time off for prescribed bed rest or prenatal or postnatal care. To qualify for the PDL, your employer only needs to have five or more employees, and eligibility is not determined by the amount of time worked.
The CFRA provides for 12 weeks of job-protected baby bonding time after your baby is born. For baby bonding, there is no requirement that the employee or baby have a serious health condition. Bonding time also does not need to be taken all at once, i.e., a new parent can take time incrementally within 12 months after giving birth.
As the accompanying chart indicates, leave under the PDL runs concurrently with FMLA leave and CFRA bonding time can be stacked on top. Therefore, a qualifying employee would be eligible for four months of PDL leave running concurrently with 12 weeks of FMLA leave plus an additional 12 weeks of bonding time under the CFRA.
Under the FMLA, CFRA and PDL, an employer also must continue health benefit coverage under any group plan under the same conditions as if the employee had continued to work. This obligation requires employers to continue paying the same portion of premiums it paid while the employee was working.
For more information on this topic, the Dolan Law Firm will be hosting a seminar on pregnancy leave and workplace rights on Sept. 13 from 10-11:30 a.m. The seminar will be free and open to the public, and will be held at the Dolan Law Firm, 1438 Market St.