California State Disability Insurance (SDI)

Common Pitfalls

Getting Unemployment Insurance when you could be getting SDI instead

If you got laid off, but you can't actually work because of a non-work-related disability, it can be a mistake to apply for Unemployment Insurance (UI).

Many people don't know about the State Disability Insurance (SDI) program, and apply for UI instead. However, SDI can give you a larger benefit for a longer period of time than UI, and you won't get UI benefits if you're not able to look for work and accept work if it's offered. Plus, you can't get UI and SDI at the same time. So even if you are unemployed, it's better to apply for SDI if you have a non-work-related injury or illness that keeps you from being able to work. If you learn about SDI after applying for UI, you can transfer from UI to SDI instead of staying on UI benefits.

Giving up on EDD because they are difficult to reach

It can be frustrating trying to contact the California Employment Development Department (EDD) about State Disability Insurance (SDI) or Paid Family Leave (PFL) because EDD staff are often extremely busy and hard to reach, but it is important to keep trying, especially if you have questions about your application or what's happening with your benefits. EDD provides a list of ways to contact them, including online chat, phone, local offices, and by mail. You may need to try more than one way to contact EDD.

Tip: If you are contacting them by phone, the main English phone line is often busy, and you might want to call one of the non-English phone numbers -- the people who answer those lines are knowledgeable about SDI and speak English in addition to the other language.

DB101 cannot answer questions about your SDI claim. If you have questions, please contact EDD.

Denying to yourself that you have a disability

Many people take a long time to learn to cope with a new condition, and in the beginning won't admit to themselves, their family, and their medical provider that they have an injury or illness that stops them from being able to work. Because of this, at first you might not be giving your medical providers an accurate or full understanding of your condition or how much it affects your day-to-day activities. It's extremely important that you let your medical provider know exactly what is going on, because in most cases State Disability Insurance (SDI) relies on your medical provider to let them know how serious your disability is, and how long it might last. If you haven't been completely honest with your medical provider and then apply for SDI, the report about your disability might be inaccurate or incomplete, and you might be turned down or you might be given benefits for a shorter period of time than you need. Note: In some cases, EDD may order (and pay for) an independent medical examination.

Not letting your medical provider know you're applying for SDI

Many people do not tell their medical providers about their plans to apply for State Disability Insurance (SDI). This can be a mistake, because SDI relies on your medical provider to let them know how serious your condition is, and how long it might last. Before applying, it's good to talk with your medical provider about your SDI application and your condition, how your condition affects your day-to-day life, and how long it might last. If the medical report sent to the SDI is inaccurate or incomplete, you might get turned down for benefits, or get them for a shorter period of time than you need them.

Filing late for benefits

You cannot apply for State Disability Insurance (SDI) benefits until 9 days after the start of your disability, and you must apply withint 49 days from the date your disability began. Many people don't know about SDI, so they miss their chance to get benefits because they don't file by the deadline. If you do file more than 49 days after the start of your disability, include a letter telling SDI why you missed the deadline. You may be able to change the start date of your disability so you can still file your claim.

Not having paid into SDI, or not having earned enough in your base period

In addition to having a non-work-related injury or illness, to get SDI benefits:

  • If you're an employee, you must have had California SDI taxes taken out of your paychecks, and you must have earned at least $300 in your base period (from roughly 17 months to roughly 5 months before the start of your disability).
  • If you're an independent contractor or business owner, you must have paid into Elective Coverage for at least 6 months.

If you have not paid California SDI taxes during the base period, you do not qualify for SDI.

Example: For the last three years, you've been working for a company in Phoenix, Arizona. Three months ago, you got a promotion and were transferred to their office in San Diego. Since working in the San Diego office, 1.1% of your pay has gone to SDI. However, you don't qualify for SDI yet, because during your base period, you lived in Arizona and weren't paying into SDI.

Not keeping good records of your condition

The more records you have of your symptoms and how your disability affects your day-to-day life, the easier it will be to get approved for SDI benefits and, if needed, make a case for continuing your benefit payments past the date your medical provider originally said you should be able to return to work. Keeping a daily journal of even minor symptoms can help quite a bit, and can jog your memory when you are talking with medical providers about your medical condition. If your disability makes you unable to keep a journal yourself, a friend or relative can do it for you.

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