When you hear the word labor now, what does it make you think about? Is it your birth plan, or who will be there to support you through it, or how will you know when you're actually in it, or whether or not to have an epidural, or is it hoping that it won't entail hours of unbearable pushing?
What you may not think about when you hear the word labor are issues related to employment—yours and those you may soon employ on account of becoming a parent, like a nanny or night nurse. Since we're all for peace of mind and not experts in employment law, we asked our friend Lisa Pierson Weinberger of Mom, Esq. about what moms can do prior to their baby's arrival to get the legal aspects of their house in order.
This will be the first of three articles that will focus on the legal issues related maternity leave, hiring home help and returning to work.
Pierson Weinberger says determining one's maternity leave benefits is "like a jigsaw puzzle" that is assembled around various state laws, your unique health circumstances, your particular employer's benefits, and personal financial circumstances. It is guided by answering two central questions: "How much time can I take off and have my job protected? And, "How much compensation will I receive while I'm away from work?
To get started, women should become acquainted with California's Pregnancy Disability Leave, which provides protection for any woman who works for an employer with at least five employees. Think of this law as a job protector. It makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate in terms of compensation, working conditions, or privileges of employment due to pregnancy.
In addition, under this law, women are entitled to up to four months off from work due to disability related to pregnancy, childbirth or a related condition. (Yes, pregnancy is considered a disability in the eyes of the law!) It actually sounds worse than it is. It really just means being physically unable to work due to being pregnant. For example, severe morning sickness, being put on bed rest by your OB/GYN, or being diagnosed with postpartum depression would all qualify.
Again, this only means your job is protected in that you can't be fired or let go for any reason. Related to the issue of disability, a woman's physician must certify this. Pierson Weinberger advises women to speak with their OB/GYNs ahead of time regarding what they are comfortable certifying with regard to disability during pregnancy and post-delivery. Typically, OB/GYNs certify about six weeks of recovery for a vaginal delivery and eight weeks for an uncomplicated cesarean section.
The next job protector law related to pregnancy and childbirth is the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). This is California's equivalent to the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act and applies to women who work for employers with 50 or more employees. CFRA provides for an additional 12 weeks or up to 7 months for baby bonding. So, you don't have to be considered disabled to stay home with your baby and adjust to your new role (or another child) and keep your job. Again, this law does not provide for compensation, only protection.
So now on to the question regarding the compensation you will receive while away from work. Basically, the California's Employment Development Department provides for two separate forms of compensation related to pregnancy and childbirth. One is through State Disability Insurance (SDI), the other is through Paid Family Leave (PFL).
Under the state's disability insurance, you are eligible for up to four weeks before your expected delivery date. The four weeks afforded prior to birth, however, cannot be used post birth. It's a use it or lose it situation. After delivery, you are eligible for up to six weeks unless there is a medical complication, such as a C-section.
Your doctor may certify a longer period if you are unable to perform your regular or customary job duties either in pregnancy or afterward. For example, if you are a waitress and it is difficult to be on your feet or motorcycle police officer and it becomes difficult or dangerous to patrol in this fashion, or, if you are diagnosed with postpartum depression. Under Paid Family Leave (PFL), the state also provides an additional six weeks paid family leave for baby bonding. Compensation received for paid family leave depends on one's wages and is at most $1,000 per week or 55% of one's salary.
Lastly, look to your employer's specific benefits such as accrued vacation and sick time. Pierson Weinberger advises us that it's important to be strategic about your company's paid benefits—actually all of these benefits.
If you're planning to get pregnant, it might make sense to wait to take that long deserved vacation and instead look to use it as paid time off after the baby is born while you're job is being protected. Make sure to ask if your company offers its own short-term disability insurance for health conditions. If they do, they must also cover pregnancy, in which case you would receive additional compensation while receiving state disability insurance. This additional short-term disability insurance can make up the difference between your salary and what you'll receive through SDI.
Pierson Weinberger says "California is a great place to have a baby." But, navigating the array of laws and benefits is complicated and it's easy to get confused—especially by your HR department. It is a good idea to plan early, so that you can afford to take full advantage of the time you are allowed, both before and after the baby is born. And, if you find yourself tangled in a knot of confusion contact Lisa Pierson Weinberger at momesqire. She'll put your mind at ease.