Every Business is required to employ women and men equally. But there comes a time during the course of business, that a woman employee will need to take maternity leave. What she goes through during the first few months after giving birth to her newborn is inexpressible. Try a mixture of euphoria, perpetual exhaustion, confusion and the feelings of unbound love and happiness. It only makes sense that during this emotional and physically taxing period, her superior from her professional life should realize that the mother needs to be involved in her baby’s life as much as possible. Unfortunately, for working women, this happens to be an even bigger challenge.
Apart from the fact that a mother needs to take care of her baby and her own health and body post delivery, the other biological factor that plays a big role is breastfeeding. Taking all of this into account, the Maternity and Benefits Bill was introduced in 1961, subsequently amended in 2008 and 2016.
Maternity Benefits Act, 1961
First, let’s take a look at the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961
The Maternity and Benefits Act is aimed to regulate the employment of women before and after childbirth. It protects women during the time of maternity and entitles her to paid absence from work to take care of the newborn. Every woman is entitled to maternity benefits for a certain period, which is paid by the employer. The amount paid by the employer is calculated at the rate of the employee’s average daily wages for the actual period of maternity absence.
The Act is applicable to:
- Any shop or establishment that consists of 10 or more employees at any point during the last 12 months.
- Any establishment engaged in equestrian, acrobatic and other related performances irrespective of the number of employees.
- Every factory, plantation or mine(Government and non-government bodies)
- The State Government can extend the Act to any industrial, agricultural, commercial or other establishments.
Note: This Act is not applicable to establishments that are already under the Employee State Insurance Act.
How Can A Woman Avail Maternity Benefits Act?
The employee may give notice in writing to the employer stating the following:
- Her maternity benefit is paid to her or a chosen nominee, specified in the written notice.
- She will not work at any other establishment for the period she receives maternity benefit.
- She will be absent from work for a period as specified by her in the written notice, which can not be less than 6 weeks before the date of expected delivery.
- The notice is given during the pregnancy or immediately after the delivery.
- Failure to give notice by the woman employee will not disentitle her from the Maternity Benefits Acts.
Restrictions on the Act
- Knowingly, no employer should employ a woman during the twelve weeks following the date of delivery. The same applies in cases of medical termination of pregnancy or miscarriage. Besides, no woman should undertake work during the twelve-week period of leave.
- The employee is required to have worked a minimum of 80 days in the last 12 months to avail the benefits of the Act.
Post Amendment Benefits offered under the Maternity Benefits Bill
|No||Post Amendment Clauses|
|1.||Maternal care is essential for growth and development during the early years of a child. (formerly 3 months) which will enable the mother to breast feed that will lead to healthy growth and development. For a mother giving birth, 26 weeks of maternity leave is permitted for the first child. For 2 or more children, the Bill mandates that Maternity leave shall only be 12 weeks.|
|2.||If a mother is adopting a child below the age of 3 months, then she is entitled to 12 weeks maternity benefit leave.|
|3.||If a mother is commissioning a child(biological mother that uses her egg to create an embryo that is planted in another woman), then she will be granted 12 weeks maternity leave.|
|4.||A woman has the option to work from home, provided the nature of work assigned can be carried out from home. This option is available after the period of maternity leave. The duration is decided mutually, by the woman employee and the employer. However, this option is not mandatory.|
|5.||A mandatory Creche for establishments that have 50 or more employees. A creche acts as a daycare center so that a mother can work and be in close proximity to the child. The mother will be allowed to visit the creche. Creches have to be within reasonable distance from the establishment, if not within the establishment itself.|
|6.||Every establishment has to intimate women employees about the maternity benefits available to her, either electronically or in the form of writing, during the time of initiation into a new organisation.|
|7.||Medical Bonus – INR 2500 is entitled to every woman that avails of maternity benefit to whom no prenatal care nor postnatal confinement is provided by the employer.|
Pre-amendment benefits offered under Maternity Benefits Bill are:
|No||Pre Amendment Clauses|
|1.||Illness Leave – in cases of illness caused by pregnancy, an employee is entitled to leave for a month with wages set at the rate of maternity benefit. The illness can be caused by pregnancy, delivery, tubectomy operation, miscarriage, premature birth of a child or medical termination of pregnancy.|
|2.||Tubectomy Operation – leave is entitled up to two weeks for women undergoing tubectomy operation. Wages for the two weeks is at the rate of maternity benefit. Proof is required to be furnished by the employee.|
|3.||Sickness and miscarriage leave – eight weeks of leave is entitled to the employee in cases of miscarriages and medical termination of pregnancy.|
|4.||Women Government employees are allowed a further 2 years of leave in phases with pay until the child turns 18.|
|5.||The pregnant employee should not do arduous work or any work that will affect the woman or the baby’s health immediately before or after availing leave for pregnancy.|
|6.||If a pregnant woman is absent from work because of maternity leave then an employer cannot dismiss or discharge said employee.|
|7.||Two 15 minute nursing breaks every day until the child is 15 months old.|
Penalties imposed on the employer are:
- For failure to pay maternity benefits as stated in the Act
- For Discharge or dismissal of a woman as stated in the Act
The penalties are:
- Imprisonment of employer for 3 months up to a year, and
- A fine of Rs 2000 up to Rs 5000
Several amendments have been made to the existing Maternity and Benefits Act to encourage a stronger woman workforce that is lagging in India. A few other provisions that should be included are:
- maternity/paternity leave for a single parent because the burden is borne by one person. Furthermore,
- Paternity leave for fathers for a shorter time duration.
- Special Cases such as cases of physical disability, mental disability, etc. need to be allowed longer time frames for maternity leave.
- These benefits should be extended to daily wage labourers and women working in the unorganised sector as well.
There are still some battles left to be won, for example, discrimination against pregnant women is still very prevalent in India, especially in the corporate sector. But over the years, India has surely come a long way in many other aspects. The recent amendments to the Maternity and Benefits Act alone speak volumes about the Government’s involvement and realization towards building a stronger women workforce and celebrating womanhood. Though it is yet to be passed and has to justify any concerns raised in regard to it, the direction we’re going looks positive.
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