The laws governing leave rights and benefits can seem like a head-spinning collection of acronyms -- FMLA, CFRA, PDL, SDI and PFL.

Generally speaking, there are overlapping state and federal laws regarding pregnancy and parenting leave. Under California law, female employees can take up to four months of pregnancy disability leave under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), followed by three months of family medical leave under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). The federal entitlement is somewhat less generous, 12-weeks under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and covers fewer employers. Neither state nor federal law requires that the leave be paid, though the CFRA regulations require that the employee be allowed to use vacation and other accrued personal time; and discrimination law in general (ie, Title VII and the FEHA) requires that the employer not treat pregnancy leave in any lesser way than other types of leave. In other words, if an employer pays leave, he/she is required to pay for pregnancy leave as well. Pregnant employees are also typically entitled to state disability.

To help make sense of it all, here's a rundown of the various kinds of leave and benefits and websites where you can follow up:

  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) (federal)

    The FMLA (Click on Leave Benefits, then Family & Medical Leave Act) entitles eligible employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave with continuation of group health insurance as if the employee had not taken leave. Under FMLA, mothers and fathers are entitled to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period (there can be variations in how a company defines a 12-month period). A mother can also take FMLA leave for prenatal care, incapacity related to pregnancy and for her own serious health condition following the birth of a child. A father can take advantage of FMLA to care for his spouse if she has been incapacitated due to pregnancy or childbirth.

    FMLA leave has some eligibility requirements attached to it: an employee has to have worked for at least 52 weeks or 1,250 hours with a company to be eligible, and the company must employ at least 50 people.

  • California Family Rights Act (CFRA) (state)

    The California Family Rights Act allows employees to take maternity leave without pay, but with job protection. The leave runs concurrently with FMLA leave, except for the period of the actual pregnancy. That means that an employee may be covered under FMLA for pregnancy disability and then by the CFRA for the baby-bonding period. There are eligibility requirements for CFRA, which provides leave for 12 work weeks in a 12-month period. An employee must be either full-time or part-time working in California, and have more than 52 weeks of service with that employer. The employer must have at least 50 employees. Although the provisions of CFRA are similar to FMLA with respect to the birth of a child or the placement of a child for adoption, an employee in California has no protection under this law for pregnancy-related disability. In other words, pregnancy is not covered or considered a serious health condition under CFRA. This leave can be used by an employee only following the birth of a child.

  • Pregnancy Disability Leave (California)

    California's Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) statute often covers women who are not otherwise covered by CFRA or FMLA because it has different eligibility requirements. For example, an employee doesn't have to have worked for 12 months at a company to be eligible. PDL applies specifically to disability caused by pregnancy, and runs concurrently with FMLA (but not with CFRA). PDL leave is up to four months, bringing the total amount of protected leave, including FMLA and CFRA, to seven months.

Income Replacement Benefits:

While the statutes discussed above generally provide only for unpaid leave, there are two forms of benefits available in California that provide for paid leave:

  • Mothers on pregnancy disability are normally eligible for coverage under California's State Disability Insurance (SDI).
  • California is one of the few states that offers paid family leave (PFL) where new parents can receive 55% of their weekly wages for up to six weeks. To find out about PFL, go to:

Many companies also permit employees to take accrued sick or vacation time "in coordination" with State Disability Insurance or Paid Family Leave, as long as they have accrued benefits on the books.

Although leave rights fall under statute, not contract, the WGA agreement does contain protections against discrimination, including discrimination based on pregnancy or disabilities. The Guild's Legal Services Department stands ready to advise you concerning potential discrimination claims or other leave-related issues.