Your Benefits - How to Pay the Bills During Your Leave?
Updated: Jan 22
I can hear you thinking, "Okay lady. Having the right to take leave is great, but I can't afford to take time off work!" I get it. Mama's gotta pay the bills and those bills sure pile up once the baby arrives.
For such tiny feet, they sure have a big financial footprint. Between diapers, sitters and strollers, I know that you can't afford to go without a source of income. If you are a California employee, you are in luck as California provides partial wage replacement.
The right to leave and the right to money are two separate rights. To fully understand your maternity leave, you have to ask these two questions:
1) How much leave can I take? (right to time)
2) How will I pay for everything during my leave? (right to money)
I will address the second question in this article. If you haven't already, I'd like you to first educate yourself on your leave rights, and then we'll talk about money.
Did you figure out how many months of leave you should receive? Then it's time for step two of the process.
What Are California's Benefits Rights for Parents?
There are two types of benefits rights for parents: Disability Benefits and Paid Family Leave Benefits. Birth mothers will receive both. Partners will only receive Paid Family Leave benefits. You can only receive either of these benefits when you are not working.
They are intended to offset wage loss during your leave. You will not receive benefits if you are not eligible for any leave, if you decided to cut your leave short and return to work, or if you decide not to take any leave at all.
Your employer may require you to use your accrued paid leave like PTO during your leave. You cannot receive benefits during that time. That would be double dipping. But you could have your benefits start at a later date than your PTO.
The money you'll receive is essentially money you paid into the public fund through mandatory payroll deductions. This generally includes employees, but excludes independent contractors except for those who elected to pay into the fund.
The employer is not on the hook for any of your pay during your leaves. You don't work, they don't pay. The leave entitlement is between you and the employer. The money is between you and the State.
Am I Eligible for Disability Benefits?
California employees are eligible for Disability Insurance through the State benefits program. Disability includes pregnancy and childbirth. Only birth mothers will receive disability benefits.
You will receive these benefits for up to four weeks before your due date and six weeks after delivery (8 weeks for C-sections). The four weeks before your due date assumes you start your disability leave before your due date. If you work until your due date, you forfeit these benefits.
Please know that if you do decide to take disability leave four weeks prior to your due date, you will have four weeks less time with your baby. If you have complications before or after this window, you can work with your doctor to extend your disability benefits.
However, if you are unable to return to work by the time your maternity leave ends, you may put your job at risk. If this applies to you, read my article on reinstatement here.
Your weekly benefits amount is 60 to 70 percent of your wages (depending on your income). Check the table here. The maximum weekly benefit is $1,300, which you will receive if you earned over $27,105 per year at least 18 months prior to your claim.
If you did not work this long for your employer, it gets more complicated, and you have to find a favorable base period. I know... huh? Don't hesitate to contact the EDD or another expert on benefits.
Am I Eligible for Paid Family Leave Benefits a.k.a "Bonding Benefits" ?
In addition to disability benefits for the birth mom, both parents are entitled to receive bonding benefits under the Paid Family Leave Benefits system.
The maximum amount of bonding benefits is eight weeks. You can only receive these benefits during the first year of your baby's birth, adoption or foster care placement.
Paid Family Leave is an incredibly misleading name. This is NOT a leave entitlement. It should be called the bonding benefits public fund or something like that
The amount is the same as disability benefits.
What Is My Employer's Responsibility?
The money is administered through the EDD, not your employer. When you ask your employer why you're not getting benefits, they may not know. Some employers will assist their employees with benefits, but it's a courtesy, not a right. Often government employers like school districts will assist their employees. Ask if there is a contact person for benefits.
But if your employer does not help you, you can do this yourself. Don't get discouraged. Don't leave money on the table because you don't want to deal with paperwork. It's not as hard as giving birth. (Yes, that's how I view every challenge these days.)
Some employers do provide supplemental pay to avoid wage loss, and even full pay after the benefits expire. But this is a fairly small group, and usually in the technology industry. When employers assist their employees financially, it's called the integration/coordination process or policy. Ask your employer if they offer it.
Even if they don't, I want you to always inquire whether your employer will provide you with pay in addition to your benefits. Argue for yourself. Explain the hardship, how important it is for your family to have this time together, and how productive and committed you will be if they help you.
If your employer says it's not their policy, find advocates within your company to change the policy. If your employer does not help, you can consider borrowing against your 401k. I've seen people do this to make up the gap. Or instead of throwing a baby shower where you'll receive five rockers and endless baby shoes (when will people realize babies don't need shoes!) - set up a GoFund my maternity leave page.
I know these options are not ideal. Believe me I'd rather the State or your employer do more for parents, but in the meantime, we have to be creative. Wouldn't you rather have more time at home than a bunch of pink onesies saying "MY AUNTIE LOVES ME!" Baby stuff is cute but you can get all of it at thrift stores or from a friend. My entire garage is filled with baby stuff I barely used.
Every time I have a pregnant friend I beg them to take if off my hands, but they get gifted all the stuff too. People love being generous when there's a baby on the way. Instead of creating a baby registry, ask your family and friends to set up a meal train or to help you pay for your rent so you can stay home longer.
How Do I Apply?
You will apply for your money through the EDD portal online, which you will find here. After you create a portal, nearly all of your information is submitted through the website. Your employer will receive a form to submit. If you work for a smaller employer, offer to help them fill it out. I filled out my own forms.
You will also need to ask your doctor to submit a document. Doctors are used to these requests and it usually takes them a few simple clicks. Once you've applied you will receive a debit card with weekly money added to the card. This all happens fairly quickly.
Again, it's important that you don't let the administrative tasks discourage you from getting your money. Keep in mind that these minor efforts will cost you thousands of dollars if you're not proactive.
How Do I Maximize Benefits as a Family?
If you are the birth mother, you will apply for disability benefits first. The EDD will then send you a document asking if you wish to continue receiving benefits through the PFL system. If you do not intend to go back to work at that time and your partner is working, you can continue to receive benefits to offset your wage loss.
Then when you return to work, your partner, if he or she works for an employer with 20 or more employees, can take leave and receive benefits. This way mom will have received disability benefits as well as bonding benefits, and her partner will also receive bonding benefits.
The puzzle that is leaves and benefits can feel daunting for a young family. Sit down together and do the work. It's so worth it. Be creative, and do whatever is best for your family. And make sure to share this article with your friends so no one leaves money on the table.
DISCLAIMER - This blog is for educational purposes and to give general information and a general understanding of the laws relating to California employment law. It is not intended to provide specific legal advice, nor should you use it for that purpose. By using this blog you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Mamattorney or Gruenberg Law and you should not use this blog as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. We don't know anything about your particular situation, and the law has many exceptions. If you have a dispute with your employer, you need to consult with an employment lawyer.