EDD Affirms Disability Standard to Improve Protections for Pregnant Farmworkers

When we launched our Medical Legal Partnership (MLP) with Monterey County Department of Health in December 2017, we gave special focus to one of the county’s most pressing public health issues: poor outcomes for babies and children due to their mothers’ exposure to pesticides while pregnant.

Two years later, we’re excited to share that the State of California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) has officially affirmed the disability standard we’ve pioneered through our MLP!

Through appeals, administrative advocacy, and coalition building, our efforts have resulted in the approval of previously denied claims by pregnant farmworkers and an update to EDD’s language about State Disability Insurance (SDI) benefits on their website.

Pregnant workers in all high-risk occupations now have clear affirmation that they can access replacement income as soon as it’s medically advisable, and no longer need to choose between a healthy pregnancy and financial stability for their families.

Focus on Farmworkers

When we set out to improve health outcomes for children impacted by their mothers’ exposure to pesticides, we quickly learned that pregnant farmworkers were among those most at risk. Many were working into their second or even third trimester around pesticides that are known to cause reproductive harm like autism, ADHD, and developmental delays.

Drawing on decades of work with farmworker communities statewide, we saw how the SDI system was failing pregnant farmworkers who couldn't get the replacement income they needed to stop working in fields sprayed with teratogenic pesticides (i.e. chemicals that disrupt fetal development and cause birth defects).

Practical Guidance for Physicians & Patients

In concert with the California Work and Family Coalition’s advocacy efforts, we filed claims on behalf of Monterey County Health Department clinic patients and asked EDD to make clear to doctors and patients that pregnant workers are eligible for SDI as soon as it is not medically advisable for them to continue working. 

This past July, EDD officially cleared the way for pregnant farmworkers to receive SDI benefits as early in pregnancy as is medically advisable, and added language to website FAQs reflecting the same.

Before that, there was no practical guidance for physicians about the possibility of disabling their pregnant patients before four weeks prior to the estimated delivery date.

With additional updates made this month, EDD has fully adopted the disability standard we pioneered through our MLP. 

For example, the EDD’s previous FAQ language advised pregnant patients working around a “known medical danger” to their baby that the appropriate time to access SDI was “if the job requirements prevent you from sustaining the life of the fetus.” Now, the updated language allows pregnant patients whose job requirements “pose a risk” to their baby to access SDI “if your physician/practitioner deems it is not medically advisable for you to perform your regular or customary work.”

This new standard finally extends SDI benefits to some of California’s hardest working and most marginalized moms.  

See EDD information for pregnant mothers >

See EDD information for physicians >

Huge Shift for All Pregnant Workers

EDD's new stance and updated website language is an important step toward ensuring all pregnant farmworkers can avoid pesticide exposure as early as medically advised, without having to choose between their health and their families’ financial stability. It’s also a huge shift in the way that pregnant women in all high-risk occupations can access the benefits they need for a safe and successful pregnancy.

This update would not have been possible without the EDD’s receptiveness and commitment to their constituents, and the Monterey County Health Department clinics at the forefront of this work. The new language from EDD will help our team at CRLA educate more providers and spread this important medical-legal intervention to other farmworker communities in California.

Support our work advocating for California’s most vulnerable communities >


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