California Employers Must Now Provide Health Benefits for Four Months for Pregnancy Disability
This week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 299, legislation requiring California employers to continue group health coverage to employees on pregnancy disability leave for up to four months. California employers with five or more employees have long been required to comply with California's law permitting employees disabled by pregnancy to take a leave of absence of up to four months for the disabling condition. This leave is in addition to traditional “maternity leave,” which separately provides the employee up to 12 weeks of leave for baby bonding (if the employer has 50 or more employees and is covered under FMLA/CFRA). Prior to passage of SB 299, employees on pregnancy disability leave were entitled to the same benefits provided by an employer to employees on other types of disability leaves. With respect to continuation of group health benefits, many employers limit the continuation of such coverage to 12 weeks, as this is the required time period for continuation of coverage under the FMLA/CFRA for family and medical leaves of absence. With the passage of SB 299, effective January 1, 2012, California employers must extend the continuation period to four months for pregnancy disability leaves.
As specified in the legislation, group health benefits must be continued on the same terms and conditions as if the employee continued actively reporting to work. Therefore, if the employer pays the entire premium for employee coverage, it must continue to do so for up to four months of pregnancy disability leave. If the employee normally pays a portion of the premium, the employee may be required to continue making such contributions (either for self or for dependent coverage) during the leave. Additionally, if the employee fails to return from pregnancy disability leave, the employer may recoup from the employee the premiums the employer paid to continue the employee's coverage during the leave, unless the reason the employee did not return is because of a continuing disability or because the employee took a separate protected leave (e.g. maternity leave) under the FMLA/CFRA.
California employers should review their policies and procedures relating to pregnancy disability leaves to ensure compliance with this new law.