New Calif. law requires more pregnancy leave coverage, applies to more small businesses

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California will require more employers to continue health care coverage for women on pregnancy disability leave under a new law.

Right now, both state and federal law regarding family leave requires employers with 50 or more workers to provide 12 weeks worth of medical coverage when an employee goes on pregnancy leave. The amount of coverage must match what the employer provided before the worker’s leave.

California's new law expands that level of coverage to businesses with only five or more employees, effectively pushing small businesses into the mix. It also extends the duration of the required coverage to four months for women whose insurance providers determine they qualify for such leaves.

"I suspect for the smaller employer who is paying all or a good portion of the health benefits for the employee, it’s a huge hit on their resources," says Susan Kemp, an attorney with the state Chamber of Commerce, "especially given the state of the current economy."

But the law’s author, Democratic state Senator Noreen Evans of Santa Rosa, has called meaningful access to leave, with continuing insurance coverage, essential to the health and economic security of working women and their families.

Bill SB299 goes into effect in January 2012.