The Maternity Benefit Act, 2017 regulates the employment of women in certain establishments immediately before and after childbirth and provides maternity benefits to pregnant or lactating women. The Act is applicable to individuals employed in both the public as well as private sectors.
The law, however, is ambiguous about whether part-time female employees are entitled to maternity benefits or not. With the changing scenario, the law has started to recognize the right of fathers to paternity leaves as well.
Maternity Leave in India
The Ministry of Labour and Employment mooted the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 to introduce better leave policies for expecting mothers. The Labour Lawyers in Delhi can help in taking legal action in case the employer denies the benefit to his employee. The key features and implications of the Maternity Benefits Act, 2017 are:
- Duration of Maternity Leave: The Act has increased the duration of paid maternity leaves to 26 weeks from the present 12 weeks. The extended period is applicable to women in the case of the first and second children. Women who are expecting after having 2 children, the duration of paid maternity leave is 12 weeks i.e. 6 weeks pre-delivery and 6 weeks post-delivery.
- For adoptive and commissioning mothers: The Act now extends to adoptive mothers as well. Every woman who has adopted a child will get 12 weeks of maternity leave in India from the date of adoption. The Labour Lawyer in Mumbai can help in taking a legal action in case the employer denies the benefit to his employee.
- Work from Home: It also introduces the option of ‘work from home’ for mothers. After the expiry of the 26 weeks’ leave period, the woman can use this option to do her work from home. This option can be modified according to the nature of the work and terms and conditions levied by the employer. The best Labour Lawyers in Gurgaon can help in taking legal action in case the employer denies the benefit to his employee.
- Crèches: The Act makes it compulsory for every establishment employing 50 or more women to have in-house creche facilities and allows women to visit the facility 4 times during the day.
- Awareness: The Act makes it compulsory for employers to aware of women workers about the maternity benefits at the time of their appointment.
It is mandatory for companies and other establishments to enforce the new Maternity Benefits Act and extend these benefits to all the women employees, including those who are already on leave. The top labor lawyers in Bangalore can give advice about taking legal action in case the employer denies the benefit to his employee.
The employer has to inform a woman worker of her rights as well under the Act at the time of her appointment. The information must be given in writing, generally through the employment agreement or through an email, through the HR policies of the company. The maternity leave is awarded along with full pay on completion of at least 80 days in an establishment in the 12 months prior to her expected date of delivery. Apart from 12 weeks of salary, a female employee is entitled to a medical bonus of Rs. 3500. The labor law lawyers in Pune can help in taking legal action in case the employer denies the benefit to his employee.
Under the National Food Security Act 2013, pregnant women and lactating mothers are entitled to receive maternity benefit of at least Rs. 6000. The Act also requires that in accordance with the schemes framed by the Central Government, every pregnant woman and lactating mother will be entitled to free meals during pregnancy and six months after the childbirth, through the local Anganwadi, so as to meet their nutritional needs.
The Maternity Benefit Act also requires employers to provide nursing breaks of prescribed duration for new mothers. These nursing breaks are fully paid and are available until a child reaches the age of 15 months. However, the duration of these prescribed breaks is not provided under the Act. The Best Labour Lawyer in Hyderabad can help in taking legal action in case the employer denies the benefit to his employee.
Under the law, every establishment having 50 or more employees must provide a creche facility for the children of women workers. A female employee is allowed four visits to the crèche in a day. An employer is also obliged not to employ a woman during the 6 weeks following the day of her delivery, miscarriage or medical termination of pregnancy.
The maternity policy can vary from organization to organization. Some organizations may permit their women employees to extend leave up to 1 year (with or without pay). Additional benefits to cover delivery and post-natal expenses in a good hospital are also provided by many companies. Some establishments also provide health insurance benefits and other allowances to their women employees during and after their pregnancy. The Best Labour Lawyer in Chennai can help in taking legal action in case the employer denies the benefit to his employee.
Paternity leaves in India
Merely increasing the leave for mothers was considered to be counterproductive as it would reinforce the gender norm of women being the sole in-charge of child care and domestic work. As the clamor for enhanced paternity leave grew stronger after the recent passage of the maternity law, provisions for paternity leave have also been finalized. Nonetheless, the position of the law with regard to paternity leave is as follows:
- Private employers are not bound to accord paternity leaves to their male employees.
- A male civil servant with less than 2 children can avail paternity leave for a period of 15 days before delivery or up to 6 months from the date of delivery of the child.
- The leave may lapse if it is not availed within 6 months of the birth of the child.
- The leave may be combined with leave of any other kind. Paternity Leave cannot normally be refused under any circumstances and it is also applicable in case of adoption of a child under the age of 1 year.
When it comes to the private sector, Deutsche Bank (DB) was the first private company that offered 6 months of child care leave to fathers, if they happen to be primary caregivers. Cisco (India) allows 12 weeks of paternity leave and RBS allows 5 days paid leave which can be availed for a maximum of two children.
Punishment to employer
It is unlawful for an employer to discharge or dismiss a pregnant worker during or on account of absence due to pregnancy, delivery or any post-natal illness or give notice of discharge or dismissal. Section 12 of the Act implies that a woman worker has the right to return to her same job after availing her maternity leave.
Working women can file a case in Labour Court with the help of a labor law advocate in Kolkata in case maternity benefits are denied by the employer. As per Act, the employer can be punished if they deny maternity benefits to women employees, with imprisonment for 3 months or fine up to Rs. 5000 or both. For discharging or dismissing such a woman during or on account of her absence from work, the employer can be punished with imprisonment not less than 3 months and up to 1 year.
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