10 Features Of The Maternity Benefits Act For Working Women

What are the features of Maternity Benefits Act? And why an alarming number of companies still don't have enough facilities for new mothers?

In this era of feminism, a number of companies still don’t have enough facilities for new mothers. Here is all you need to know about the Maternity Benefits Act.

We may live in the time of women’s empowerment and feminism. But women still constitute only 21.6 percent of the total labour force, as per the data by the World Bank.

Now, there are a number of reasons for this, one of them being improper maternity benefits. Several working women leave their jobs to take care of the kids because it becomes difficult to balance work with kids.

Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) Social Development Foundation conducted a survey in a few major cities of India wherein they interacted with new moms. The report of ASSOCHAM highlighted that 25 percent of the total women left their jobs after maternity.

Maternity Benefits Act

Maternity Benefits Acts India

Over the past few years, there has been a demand for improving the maternity benefits. These have been made to ensure that a woman is able to rejoin her work after pregnancy. And that she is able to balance work life and childcare.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance.”

Maternity Benefits Act, of 1961 was enacted to “regulate the employment of women in certain establishments for a certain period before and after childbirth. And to provide for maternity benefits and certain other benefits.”

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The Act lays down the provision for maternity benefits for pregnant women. These include paid leave during pregnancy, the option to work from home, a crèche facility, among others.

Who is entitled to the Maternity Benefits Act in India?

Maternity Benefits Act, India 1961

A woman employed directly or through an agency. She needs to have  worked in the establishment for at least 160 days in 12 months preceding the date of expected delivery. The Act provides maternity benefits to both biological and commissioning mothers.

You are entitled to take maternity leave for a period of twenty-six weeks. Leave for a period of eight weeks can be taken and recovered under the Act.

The Act applies to all establishments including factories, mines, plantations, shops, establishments belonging to the government, and establishments where people are employed for the exhibition of equestrian, acrobatic and other performances.

What are the provisions in the Maternity Benefits Act for a pregnant woman?

Pregnant women get twelve weeks of leave after the delivery. In the case of a woman having two or more children, she will be entitled to a leave of twelve weeks, i.e. six weeks before the delivery and six weeks after delivery.

A commissioning mother/ adopting mother who adopts a child below the age of three months is entitled to a maternity leave of twelve months after the child is handed over to the adopting mother/ commissioning mother.

A pregnant woman is entitled to an average daily wage for the period of maternity leave availed by her.

Work From Home

Apart from maternity leave, a woman may be allowed to avail the benefit of working from home if the nature of work is such that she is not required to go to the office.

Leave for miscarriage

In the case of miscarriage, a woman is entitled to paid leave of six weeks from the date of miscarriage.

Leave for illness

A woman is entitled to leave for a period of up to one month in case she suffers from an illness that has arisen out of pregnancy, delivery, premature birth of a child or miscarriage. To claim the leave, the woman is required to furnish proof of the illness.

Nursing Breaks

A woman who has returned after delivery is entitled to take two breaks to nurse the child until the child attains the age of fifteen months.

Crèche

The employer is duty-bound to make a provision of crèche at the establishment if the number of employees working in the establishment is fifty or more.

Termination during maternity leave

An employer cannot terminate a woman on maternity leave for being absent from duty during such a period. An employer can also not vary the conditions of her work in a manner detrimental to her during the period.

A woman cannot be terminated to avoid giving maternity benefits to her. Such a provision was introduced to avoid cases where the employer would terminate their female employees to avoid their obligation of providing her with maternity benefits.

This ensures that the job of a woman is not affected due to pregnancy and hence, motivates them to rejoin work after maternity leave. However, a woman can be terminated during the period if there is gross misconduct on her part in fulfilling her duties at work.

What if the employer refuses to give maternity benefits?

If the employer fails to give maternity benefits or terminates a woman during maternity leave in a wrongful manner, the employer can be punished with an imprisonment of a period extending up to three months or a fine extending up to Rs. 500 or both.

The aggrieved woman can also file a suit before an appropriate forum to recover the maternity benefits she is entitled to. In the case of wrongful termination, the aggrieved woman can proceed against the employer for compensation or reinstatement in the job.

Duties of Employee under the Act

  • The employer is required to review and amend its policies regarding employee benefits and maternity benefits to include the provisions laid down under the Act.
  • The employer is also required to include appropriate clauses in the employment agreement reflecting adherence to the provisions of the Act.
  • The employer is required to make a detailed policy for the ‘work from home’ option to allow working mothers to work from home.
  • The employer is required to make appropriate provisions for crèche for working mothers.
  • The employer is required to create a non-discriminatory grading/ appraisal system, acknowledging the absence of a pregnant woman.

FAQs and their answers

Maternity leave policies in India

Here are some of the most common questions about the Maternity Benefits and leaves in India.

How long is maternity leave in India?

Answer: Maternity leave in India is typically 26 weeks or six and a half months. It is applicable to all female employees in both the government and private sectors, regardless of the number of children they have.

Can maternity leave be extended beyond 26 weeks?

Answer: Yes, maternity leave can be extended beyond 26 weeks under certain circumstances. If a woman suffers from an illness related to pregnancy or childbirth, she may be eligible for an additional one month of leave.

However, this extension is subject to the approval of the employer.

Is maternity leave paid or unpaid?

Answer: Maternity leave in India is a paid leave. During the 26 weeks of maternity leave, a woman is entitled to receive her full wages or salary. The employer cannot deduct any amount from her payment during this period.

Can maternity leave be taken before the delivery?

Answer: Yes, maternity leave can be taken before the delivery. A woman can start her maternity leave up to eight weeks before the expected date of delivery (as certified by a medical practitioner).

Is maternity leave available for adoptive mothers?

Answer: Yes, adoptive mothers are entitled to maternity leave as well. They can take a leave of 26 weeks from the date of adoption. This applies to both the government and private sector employees.

Are women working in the informal sector eligible for maternity leave?

Answer: Yes, women working in the informal sector are also eligible for maternity leave. The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 covers all women employees, including those in the organized and unorganized sectors, as long as they meet the eligibility criteria.

Is there any provision for paternity leave in India?

Answer: Currently, there is no specific provision for paternity leave under the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961. However, some companies and organizations voluntarily offer paternity leave to their male employees.

What documents are required to avail maternity leave?

Answer: To avail maternity leave, an employee generally needs to submit a written application to the employer stating the expected date of delivery.

Additionally, the employer may require a medical certificate from a registered medical practitioner confirming the pregnancy.

Can a woman resign while on maternity leave?

Answer: Yes, a woman can resign from her job while on maternity leave. However, it is advisable to check the terms and conditions mentioned in the employment contract and consult with the employer regarding any notice period or obligations.

Are there any penalties for employers who do not comply with maternity leave provisions?

Answer: Yes, the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 imposes penalties on employers who fail to comply with the maternity leave provisions. Non-compliance can result in fines and legal consequences.

It is essential for employers to ensure they adhere to the regulations to protect the rights of their female employees.


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