COLUMBUS - The Ohio Civil Rights Commission voted 4-1 yesterday to require companies with four or more employees to allow women 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave.
The policy change now goes to a legislative rule review committee that generally approves measures without issue.
But the Ohio Chamber of Commerce said it will argue that the commission overstepped its authority with the change, which should be debated by the state legislature.
With the requirement, Ohio would join at least 18 other states that provide more generous maternity benefits than required in federal mandates.
Federal law says companies with at least 50 employees must allow new mothers who have worked at least 1,250 hours in the preceding 12 months to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Current state law requires companies to give women a "reasonable period of time" off work to care for their newborn.
The new state policy would apply to all women regardless of how long they've worked at a company.
Supporters say the changes would reflect that pregnancies cannot always be planned around what is most convenient for an employer and that women shouldn't have to fear losing a job because they become pregnant.
Mothers still must be able to demonstrate that a medical professional believes the time off is medically necessary, said Toni Delgado, spokesman for the Civil Rights Commission.
Small businesses oppose the change because they said it will increase costs and reduce flexibility when Ohio is already facing economic difficulties.
Commissioner Grace Ramos, who cast the dissenting vote, said the commission went beyond simply clarifying the law and created a new policy that could burden the state economically and lead to small businesses not hiring young women with families.
"It's not an easy job to have a child, but it has to be tempered with the economic needs of our state," Ms. Ramos said.
The rule review committee now is charged with making sure the commission isn't overstepping its bounds or contradicting lawmakers' intent. The committee does not rule on the merits of a policy.