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Maternity Leave in India: Importance & Benefits

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Mohammed Faizan N
March 21, 2022

Introduction

Maternity leave is a period of time during which a woman takes a break from work after the birth of a child. Maternity leave in India allows a woman to take time off work when her child is born. Female employees were only allowed 12 weeks of maternity leave under the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961. But the Maternity Benefits Act of 2017 increased the period to 26 weeks. In addition, non-compliance with the laws and regulations carries a penalty. 

By offering significant maternity leave, organizations can support moms to bond properly with their babies, take care of their child's physical requirements, and observe all of his or her important developmental stages. A decent and longer maternity leave benefit is vital to foster a better employee-employer relationship.

1. What is a Maternity Leave?

Maternity Leave is a well-intentioned initiative by the Indian government for expecting mothers in India. Under the Maternity Leave Act 2017, it defines a period of time for pregnant female employees to be on leave for the welfare of both the mother and the baby. Thus increasing the added benefits to women employees.

This Act further specifies the different categories of maternity leave and entitlements from the employer accessible to women in the commercial and public sectors. This is a 'fully paid leave' accessible to a working woman who is pregnant or nursing to provide support for herself and her baby. This amendment in 2017 significantly alters India's previous Maternity Act 1961 and applies to enterprises, and factories with ten or more employees, whether organized or unorganized.

This allows them to care for the newborn baby while temporarily ceasing to work for the organization. It gives the mother the right to full payment during this period. As a result, maternity leave is a paid leave policy that is based on a set of criteria that women employees must meet in order to be considered valid.

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2. Benefits of the Maternity Benefit Amendment Act, 2017

Various rules and rights are effectively incorporated in the legal structure of a business, providing benefits to the workers who work there. So, in a nutshell, these rights are subsidies that make working a long time worthwhile. One of these perks is the Maternity Leave Act of 1961. It protects the interests of working women who would like to start a family while balancing their careers and personal lives.

Essentially, the legislation gives a pregnant woman the time and resources she needs to care for herself and her child's health. It also broadens the opportunities for surrogate and adoptive mothers. You can get 8 weeks of paid leave prior to childbirth and 18 weeks available after delivery, or you can take them all at once. If you're fostering or adopting a baby, the limit stays at 12 weeks if you are adopting a baby less than 3 months old.

For companies with 50 or more employees, providing the crèche facilities becomes a requirement, and working from home is also an option. Female workers are entitled to be informed and educated about workplace benefits. When women enter the workplace, the HR or comparable grade representative must offer a copy of such information (benefits) in writing or digitally.

A woman who has a medical termination or miscarriage, late-term abortion or termination of pregnancy has undergone a tubectomy operation, or has any ailment after birth can seek an extension of one month well beyond the authorized maximum period with payment.

However, when it comes to the act's constraints, women who are pregnant with their first or second child are the only ones who can profit from it. If you are having a third or fourth child, the rule is further restricted by requiring 80 days of continuous service and earning a minimum wage.

a. Work from home option: 

The bill contained a provision that allows an employer to allow a new mother to work remotely from home. This would apply if the nature of the employment you are allocated to allows you to work from home. After maternity leave, this arrangement can be used for a period of time that is mutually agreed upon by you and the company.

b. Income option: 

Maternity leave is paid in full when you have worked for at least 80 days at an organization in the 12 months leading up to your due date. For the length of your actual absence from work, the maternity benefit is paid at the rate of the average daily wage. A female employee is allowed a healthcare incentive of Rs 3,500 in addition to her 12-week wage. Pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers are eligible for a maternity bonus of at least Rs. 6,000 under the National Food Security Act of 2013.

3. Who is eligible to get maternity leave?

Under the Maternity Benefits Act of 2017, the eligibility requirements state that you must have worked for at least 80 days in the company in order to be eligible for maternity leave. And you must have completed the indicated 80-day term within the past 12 months. Unfortunately, if you've had a miscarriage, your benefits are limited to 6 weeks of recovery leave starting from the day of the loss. A surrogate mother is entitled to 12-week maternity leave.

According to India's maternity leave law 2017, compensation throughout the leave time is determined on the basis of the daily income for the length of actual absence. Originally, the maternity leave in India was just three months long, but after the 2017 Amendment, it was increased to six months. In India, all women working in factories and establishments with at least 10 workers have access to about 6 months of paid maternity leave. However, a mother with two or more children is permitted only 12 weeks of paid maternity leave in India.

 

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4. The Importance of Maternity Leave in India

Choosing to have a child is a significant and life-changing decision, and it comes with a lot of commitments. The couple's emotional as well as physiological well-being and resilience are on the line. When both parents work, taking personal responsibility for the children becomes much more difficult.

It is significantly simpler for stay-at-home mums to care for their children. Is that to say that working women aren't supposed to be there for their children when they need them? Because women are the primary caregivers and nurturers, there are legal provisions for taking time off during childbirth and even after delivery.

Let us first go through the advantages of taking maternity leave:

  • Because the woman is not continuing to work, she is better positioned to look after the well being of herself and the baby.
  • Another key consideration is how paid maternity sabbatical alleviates any financial strains that may otherwise cause chaos. Pregnancy comes with a slew of fees, including healthcare coverage for the mother for nine months and the newborn after that. It also includes a price list for prenatal care, labour, drugs, immunizations, and postpartum care.
  • Paid maternity breaks are extremely beneficial to low-wage workers and single moms.
  • In terms of mental health, a comfortable birth and postnatal period lower the chance of postpartum depression for the mother and anxiety in babies.
  • By taking the necessary days off, women can recover more quickly, catch up on sleep, and return to work.
  • Additionally, women return with renewed vigour and a commitment to giving their all to the organization.
  • In particular, the offering of maternal leave immediately aids in staff retention.
  • It also helps to close the pay difference between the genders.

Most enterprises are required by Indian law to provide health care benefits to expecting women employees throughout pregnancy and postpartum in order to preserve their rights. This act governs maternity benefits and welfare in India, and it applies to all businesses and organizations with ten or more employees. 

The 26-week paid maternity leave provided by the Indian Maternity Leave Act of 2017 has outdone the 16-week leave provided by France and comfortably outperforms Germany and Japan's 14-week leave. Only the United Kingdom, Greece, Ireland, the Slovak Republic, and the Czech Republic provide lengthier paid time off than India to new moms.

5. How To Apply For A Maternity Leave?

Although there is no standard structure, format, or common application process that you must complete, a maternity leave application should be addressed to your manager at your office. Every company has its own policy for awarding maternity leaves. In most cases, you must apply at least two months ahead of time stating that you have to take a sabbatical from work in order to adequately care for your newborn baby and yourself. They'll let you know what laws and regulations your company adhere to. 

Prenatal leaves, on the other hand, must be requested at least 8 weeks prior to your delivery date. The procedure in itself is not a complicated process and won't take long to complete. There aren't many formalities, and things move quite quickly if the company is kind.

 

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6. Standard rules under the Maternity Leave Act:

According to the statute, an employer should not assign a pregnant employee demanding responsibilities, such as working long hours, ten weeks prior to birth, since this might harm both the mother and the child.

The company is responsible for the female employee's health and safety, and she is prohibited from working for 6 weeks after the delivery or miscarriage. The legislation also specifies that during maternity leave, an employer cannot fire or terminate a female employee.

There are serious repercussions if an employer doesn't comply with the Maternity Benefit Act of 2017. The punishment for an employer who refuses to comply with the Act is a penalty of Rs. 5000/- or a year in jail sometimes, both.

7. What should the Maternity Leave Act include in terms of HR?

  • As a necessary document, every HR department must write a thorough Maternity Leave Policy. Every institution should inform a pregnant employee regarding her rights and how to exercise them in writing or through email.
  • HR should update the Maternity Leave policy in accordance with government guidelines.
  • An employee who is pregnant is automatically excluded from the usual performance appraisal cycle.
  • A clause allowing female employees to work from home.

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8. Your legal rights as an employed pregnant woman:

An employer cannot fire you when you are on maternity leave or issue a termination notice to you when you are on maternity leave that expires before your leave ends. During maternity leave, an employer cannot modify the terms of employment to your detriment.

Furthermore, unless the discharge or dismissal is for serious misbehaviour, if you are fired or dismissed during her pregnancy, you will be entitled to maternity benefits and a medical bonus.

9. Challenges faced by the employers:

In India, maternity leave has alleviated a great deal of misery for working women. Employers, on the other hand, have their own number of challenges:

  • In India, employers are solely responsible for the expense of maternity leave. In other nations, the government and the employer split the expense
  • Providing additional personnel for the pregnant employee who is on maternity leave. The cost of training temporary employees is an additional expense for the business.
  • The provision of crèche facilities is an additional infrastructure expenditure for the employer, in addition to the hiring of skilled personnel to run the crèche.

According to the poll, male employees account for the majority of jobs in India. Employers are more hesitant to hire women than males because of the looming and obligatory expenses of employing a female over a male counterpart. As a result, women of marrying age and newly married women will not be seriously considered for important roles and promotions in the organization. Women who have not married yet or who have already had two or more children could have superior work roles and advancement opportunities in the workplace.

SMEs and start-ups operate on a shoestring budget and may be hesitant to hire female staff if the government will not contribute to the cost.

Despite government rules mandating maternity leave policies, some are unable to take advantage of it. The employer is hesitant to cover the entire cost of the female employees out of his or her own pocket. The government should establish arrangements to assist firms in paying some of their expenditures, allowing employers to attract female employees without fear of discrimination.

10. Conclusion:

Pregnancy is a natural phenomenon, and the cognition or working capability of female employees does not diminish at this time. As a developing country that promotes girls' education, maternity incentives and medical bonuses should be properly explored and adopted by all organizations with full government backing.

Despite the benefits and drawbacks of the existing framework, the legislation assists numerous expecting moms in caring for themselves and their unborn children. Because a woman is under a great deal of stress after giving birth, such perks might help her manage her career and personal life. As a result, the ramifications of such a decision have a long road ahead.

11. Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Is it possible to extend the 26-week period?

It is acceptable if a woman necessitates an extension owing to unavoidable health issues. You will, however, be required to formally provide all of the paperwork for the employer's records. And each of these must come from a licensed medical professional. Once the organization is certain, the length can be increased. This might not be a paid leave, since the legislation only allows for remuneration of up to a 26-week period of maternity leave.

2. What happens if I don't return to work?

The answer is simple: you are only allowed to take 26 weeks of maternity benefits under the law. Following that, you can cancel your arrangement or employment but you will not be entitled to any compensation.

3. Is it possible to get fired because I'm pregnant?

No! An employer cannot terminate a pregnant woman's work contract under any circumstances. Working women must strongly oppose such behaviour and be aware of their legal rights in the workplace. It is prohibited for an employer to take such action and the employer will get punished under the modified Maternity Benefit Act.

4. What work do limitations apply to pregnant women?

This statute applies to all female employees, whether they are hired on a full-time or part-time basis. A woman employee is defined as "a woman engaged for payment in any company, either directly or via an intermediary." Maternity Benefit is available to any female employee who already has served in the institution for at least 80 days in the 12 months prior to her estimated delivery date. The 80 days include a paid period of maternity leave and layoff days.

5. Which establishments are covered by the Act?

The Maternity Benefit Act covers the entire country and applies to government employees in government establishments and in any factory, mine, or plantation industry, including those owned by the government. The number of employees doesn't matter, and any shop or establishment where 10 or more people are working or were staffed on any day in the previous 12 months.

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Written by
Mohammed Faizan N
Faizan is an SEO Specialist at sumHR, a passionate marketer with 3 years of experience in building a website, establishing organic visibility on Google and building an online presence on Social Media.
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