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California Pregnancy Leave: A Guide to FMLA, PDL & CFRA

Medical leaves, and specifically pregnancy-related leaves, can be tricky for both employers and employees to navigate. Between state and federal laws, there is a lot to understand. Here, we will break down how to manage medical leaves and understand the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), and Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL).


The CFRA is designed to help employees balance work and personal or family medical demands, while also maintaining job protection. Eligible employees could be facing their own serious health conditions, needing to care for a covered family member (including registered domestic partners) with serious medical health conditions, or bonding with a newborn child, adopted child, or foster child.

In addition to the above circumstances, employees must:

  • Have been with the employer for at least 12 months (do not have to be consecutive)
  • Work at least 1,250 hours in the 12 month period immediately before the CFRA leave

The CFRA applies to private employers who have employed at least 50 employees for 20 weeks (the 20 weeks do not have to be consecutive). It provides eligible employees 12 weeks of protected, unpaid leave for the following events:

  • Caring for and bonding with a newborn child, an adopted child, or a foster child.
  • Caring for a child, parent, spouse, or registered domestic partner with a serious health condition.
  • Managing their own serious health condition that prevents them from doing their job duties.


The Family and Medical Leave Act is similar to CFRA, but has a few distinct differences. To be eligible for FMLA, employees must:

  • Have been employed with the employer for at least 12 months
  • Have worked 1,250 hours or more during those 12 months and before the start of the FMLA leave

Like CFRA, the act applies to employers with at least 50 employees, as well as employees that may work remotely within 75 miles of the office’s location. Eligible employees receive 12 workweeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for:

  • A serious health condition
  • The birth of a child, adoption of a child, or a new foster child
  • To care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition (domestic partners are not eligible)
  • Any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the above people is on active duty in the military


Although a portion of the two laws intersect, there are some important differences between the two:

  • The CFRA does not include pregnancy-related disabilities.
  • The two may be taken concurrently. Ask a lawyer for specific cases.
  • Unlike with FMLA, registered domestic partners are granted the same status as spouses in the state of California.
  • With CFRA, an employer may require (or an employee may elect) to use accrued paid vacation or sick time, depending on the circumstance. With FMLA, this can only be required if it is stated in the company’s paid leave policy.
  • The FMLA may provide special circumstances for military members and their families (qualifying exigency), but the CFRA does not cover service member leave or qualifying exigency.
  • Under the FMLA, eligible employees “may work an intermittent or reduced schedule for baby bonding only if the employer agrees. Under the CFRA, though, employers must allow employees to work an intermittent or reduced schedule for baby bonding if requested.”
  • With FMLA, employers are allowed to ask for a medical diagnosis, when necessary, to support the need for leave. However, under the CFRA, employers cannot ask for a diagnosis, but the employee may opt to disclose it themselves. Pregnant woman planning her maternity leave


Lastly, Pregnancy Disability Leave provides protection for pregnancy-related disabilities. Employees that are disabled by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition are eligible for four months of job-protected leave (122 days). Employees may have to provide proper medical certification to be eligible for PDL, but employers are not allowed to require such documentation. Protected leave means that an employer cannot discriminate against an employee on the basis of a pregnancy or pregnancy-related disability.

PDL applies to private employers with at least 5 full- or part-time employees and public employers are covered regardless of the size of the company. Unlike the above two laws, there is no minimum length of service or employment for PDL. Examples of pregnancy-related disabilities may include:

  • Severe morning sickness
  • The inability to safely perform essential job duties because of the pregnancy
  • Need to take time off for pre- or post-natal care, bed rest, gestational diabetes, or hypertension or preeclampsia caused by the pregnancy
  • Need to take time off for postpartum depression, childbirth, loss or end of pregnancy, or recovery from childbirth

As an HR professional or employer, your job is to understand both the federal and state laws regarding medical leaves, your legal responsibilities, when an employee’s absence falls under any of the above laws, and to ensure that all policies comply with these laws. As an employee, you need to understand your rights, as well. If you have questions about leaves of absence, medical leaves, or pregnancy-related leaves, contact the law offices of Feldman Browne, APC today. Consulting with an experienced California pregnancy discrimination lawyer can greatly aide you in understanding your rights or the rights of your employees.