How to File a Claim for Disability Benefits in California

California workers pay into the disability fund, which helps them after accidents.
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California disability insurance (DI) is available to employees who lose wages because of an injury or illness unrelated to work, or because of pregnancy. Most government workers don't qualify for DI. Workers on sick leave who receive the equivalent of their full wages can't claim DI. You can apply for benefits at the SDI Online website.

Qualifying for DI

To qualify for DI, the state says, you must have been either employed or looking for work when your disability hit. The disability or pregnancy must make you unable to do your regular work for at least eight consecutive days, and it must cost you either wages or the ability to job-hunt. Benefits are based on past earnings during a base period of 12 months. If you haven't earned at least $300 during the base period from which your employer withheld disability-coverage payments, you don't qualify.

Filing the Form

You apply by filing form DE 2501, either online or through the mail. If you can't download the form to your computer, you can order a hard copy from 1-800-480-3287. Filing a fraudulent claim is illegal, but the state Employment Development Department says it's fine to apply when you're not sure about your eligibility. When filling out the form, EDD notes that it's important to think carefully about when you want your payments to start. The base period varies according to when payments begin. It's possible a change in the timing will increase your payments.

Medical Matters

For the first eight days of disability, you must be under the care of a doctor, medical professional or a religious practitioner -- a Christian Scientist, say -- accredited by the state. The care has to continue as long as you're receiving DI benefits, and the caregiver has to certify that you're disabled and unable to work. Usually the professional who certifies your disability has to be a doctor, but there are exceptions. Midwives or nurse midwives can fill out the medical disability forms for problems related to pregnancy or childbirth, for instance.

If you're eligible for DI, you're also covered by California's paid family leave (PFL). PFL pays benefits equal to roughly 55 percent of your wages when you're staying home with a sick or injured spouse, child or parent, or bonding with a newborn child. You can take up to six weeks of PFL in a year. You apply online at the Employment Development Department's disability insurance page. If you're on disability for pregnancy, the EDD will contact you about filing for PFL as soon as your disability payments stop.

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