Unsplash /

To see the ads, you’d think all expectant parents need to worry about is the cutest gender reveal ideas or what field a mom-to-be should pose in for her portrait. But knowing your available job protections and potential maternity leave will have far more impact on your expanding family’s happiness and health than any cute photo. California maternity leave is generally considered one of the best by state, but it’s still important to know your rights and the law. Then you can get down to planning your own leave. Here’s what you need to know while you’re pregnant or still in the family planning stages:

How long is maternity leave?

It’s important not to confuse how much maternity leave you can take with the amount of leave your company is obligated to pay for either parent. California paid family leave is provided for under the California Family Rights Act. This “baby bonding law” dictates that employees can take as much as 12 weeks’ leave following the birth of a baby or the adoption of an infant. But that’s not the law that requires employers to pay workers while they’re out. The program in California that may help an employee collect partial pay on maternity or parental leave is called Paid Family Leave, PFL for short. And if that’s not enough initials to remember, add PLA, which stands for the Parental Leave Act. This law went into effect in 2018 and it provides parents on maternity leave with better pay in the situations where partially-paid leave is required.

Will I still have a job?

Small Business Association figures indicate current California laws will keep jobs open for more than 80 percent of workers who need to take parental leave. Would you be one of the ones protected? The PLA protects your job, but only if you meet these criteria

– You’re employed by a place that has at least 20 employees who work within a 75-mile radius of your workplace, or that employees 50 people anywhere
– You’ve worked for this employer for at least the previous 12 months
– You’ve worked at least 1,250 hours in that same time span, which works out to roughly 25 hours per week.

If you meet those standards, your employer must keep your job open until you return from maternity leave.

The 2018 PLA increased leave pay

California stakeholders were concerned that new parents couldn’t access the PFL program because it paid 55 percent of wages. While that’s a good sum, people making minimum wage couldn’t live off of it while taking time off to care for and bond with their newborns. In 2018, the new PLA went into effect. Here’s how it might be good for you: Under the PLA, people who earn under a third of the state’s average three-month wage by law must be paid 70 percent of their weekly wages for up to six weeks. In 2018, the California average quarterly wage was roughly $5,230. So anyone who earns less than that each quarter could collect 70 percent of their paycheck in family leave payment. If the new parent earns more than that, partial pay from the employer is still 60 percent, up to a cap of $1,173 per week.

California pregnancy disability

While your top concern may be assuring maternity leave benefits, you should also be aware of California state disability insurance rules in case you have severe medical problems during pregnancy. According to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, a pregnancy disability is “a physical or mental condition related to pregnancy or childbirth that prevents you from performing essential duties of your job, or if your job would cause undue risk to you or your pregnancy’s successful completion.” It’s up to your health care provider, not your employer, to determine if your pregnancy experience requires California pregnancy disability leave. A few conditions that may qualify include gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension, preeclampsia, and post-partum depression.

If your health care provider determines you need PDL, they will also indicate how long. You may be entitled to as much as 16 weeks of leave per pregnancy. And that amount is independent of any other leave that your employer is required to provide based on other California laws.

Can dad take leave too?

California paid family leave laws will cover mom or dad. And you have these legal protections whether you’re straight or same-sex parents. Even if the two parents work at the same place, each one is covered by the up to six weeks leave with partial pay. Each parent must meet the “time worked” and income qualifications, though. If a pregnant employee is transgender? Rest assured that transgender residents of California have the right to all the same accommodations and leave provided by law for any qualified pregnant or post-partum employee.

And bear in mind, while many employers don’t offer paid maternity leave, a few do. One of the first things you should do after learning a baby is on the way is to check your employee manual to see what your employer might offer outside the legally mandated California maternity leave. It’s also a good idea to check this out while you’re still figuring out the timing of starting a family. Some career experts even recommend making this particular benefit part of your job negotiations. After all, being able to bond with a new child or rest assured that you’ll have a job after maternity leave will impact your life for years to come.