Great News for the New Year: Health Insurance for Pregnant Women on Leave

By Mia Munro, Equal Rights Advocates

We are excited to ring in this New Year with new and important protections for working mothers-to-be in California, thanks to a recent change in California law.

Under the state’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Act (PDL), women who work for employers with five or more employees are guaranteed up to four months of leave, without losing their jobs, if they are disabled by their pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition. A new amendment to the PDL, which went into effect on January 1, 2012, now guarantees continued health benefits for women while they take this leave.

Before this legislative change, pregnant women from all over California often faced a common problem.  For instance, Maria, a working woman with a baby on the way, had to decide how to best provide for herself and her new family. Her doctor recommended that she take ten weeks off from work to maintain a healthy pregnancy and recovery. Her employer told her that she could take the unpaid leave without losing her job, but that she would lose her health insurance benefits during that time.  Maria faced a tough choice.

At Equal Rights Advocates (ERA), a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and expanding economic and educational opportunities for women, we have heard from many women like Maria. Through our toll-free, multi-lingual Advice and Counseling hotline, we provide information to women about their rights in education and the workplace. Many pregnant workers have called our hotline and expressed concern about losing their health insurance benefits once they take the pregnancy disability leave recommended by their doctors. Unwilling to risk losing health insurance coverage at such a critical time for themselves and their babies, many of those women chose not to take the leave, against their doctors’ advice. In doing so, they jeopardized their own health and the health of their babies.

ERA recently received several calls on our hotline from women who will benefit from the new law. The callers were pregnant, and their employers threatened to discontinue their health insurance benefits if they took more than 30 days of leave. Doctors usually recommend that women with normal and healthy pregnancies take at least 60 days of leave in order to stay healthy. These women’s physicians recommended the same. We were very happy to tell these callers that they would be covered by the new amendment to the PDL, and that starting in 2012, their employers must continue providing health insurance coverage while the women take the leave advised by their doctors.

These women will no longer have to choose between giving up health insurance coverage and jeopardizing the health of themselves and their babies. Now that’s a happy start to the New Year for California’s pregnant workers and their families!

Mia Munro is a Law Fellow at Equal Rights Advocates.

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