What is Maternity Benefit?
Maternity Benefit is a leave given to women by their employers after they have given birth. In most countries, maternity benefit is a legal mandate. Such a leave may be paid or unpaid, though generally it is legally mandated that maternity benefit leave should be paid leave.
Employers are legally bound to give paid leave to women who have just given birth. Maternity benefit, or “maternity leave” as it is popularly known, can be anywhere between 6 weeks to 30 weeks and this duration differs from country to country. Sweden gives the highest paid maternity leave in the world of 56 weeks at 80% of the total monthly salary.
The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961
The Maternity Benefits Act [the “Act”] was enacted in 1961 to grant female employees mandatory paid leave one giving birth. Though the Act applies uniformly across India, it has been implemented with varying success.
How to be Eligible for the Benefit Under this Act?
- The Maternity Benefits Act applies to every factory, mine and plantation. It also applies to any shop or establishment having 10 or more employees.
- Employees should have worked in the said establishment for at least 80 days in the 12 months preceding the date of delivery of a child.
- The employees should inform the employer of the period of absence they are to claim at least seven weeks before the expected delivery date.
- They should also notify to their employers the name of the person to whom payment for such paid leave is to be made should be made in the case of the employee’s absence or death during the period of paid leave.
What Benefits Could be Claimed Under the Act Prior to the Amendment?
- Under the unamended Act, female employees were entitled to 12 weeks fully paid maternity leave, of which a minimum of 6 weeks were to be taken after the date of delivery.
- A medical bonus of Rs. 3500 could also be claimed.
- 10 weeks prior to the delivery, employees are exempted from undertaking night shifts or any activities which would adversely affect their pregnancy or the fetal health of the child being carried b y them.
- After returning to work from paid leave, employees are entitled to two nursing breaks until the child is 15 months of age.
- It is also illegal to discharge any woman from her employment during the period of maternity leave.
The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016
The amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act has recently been passed by the Rajya Sabha. It is waiting on approval from the Lok Sabha, after which it shall be notified in the Official Gazette. Several groundbreaking changes have been proposed by this amendment, which have been enumerated below.
- Increasing fully paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. Of these 26 weeks, no more than 8 weeks should be preceding the date of delivery.
- A female employee with two or more surviving children will receive only 12 weeks of paid maternity leave under the amendment. This is a provision that has been imported from various States’ laws regarding maternity leave on the basis of number of children.
- For female employees having a child through surrogacy, a period of 12 weeks paid surrogacy leave is allowed from the day of handing over of the baby from the surrogate mother to the commissioning mother (the employee).
- Fully paid adoption leave of 12 weeks from the date when the child is handed over to the adoptive mother by the adoption agency, provided the child is less than 3 months old at the time.
- During the period of maternity leave, the female employee should be allowed to work from home, subject to any terms mutually agreed between the employer and employee.
- Shops or establishments with more than 50 employees have been obligated to set up/provide a creche facility for women. A creche facility would allow working women to be at close proximity with their children. The amendment allows four visits to the crèche per day, which also includes the rest period allowed to the woman employee. The amendment, however, does not specify whether such facility would be chargeable.
- Employers are obligated to notify to all women employees of the benefits they are entitled to under the Maternity benefit Act.
Several provisions of the Act have remain unchanged. This includes the eligibility criteria for being entitled to benefits under the Act. The provision that states that only a woman employee who has worked for at least 80 days in the 12 months immediately preceding her expected date of delivery remains unchanged.
Additionally, there have discussions in the Rajya Sabha regarding the introduction of paternal leave, i.e., leave for the father on the birth of his child. However, these discussions did not yield any concrete results. We will have to wait for another amendment to see if there will be gender equality in parental leave in India.
Possible drawbacks of this amendment is the increased cost to shops and establishments. Longer period of leave means higher cost to industries. This may have a negative effect on medium or smaller industries. Larger organisations, however, will have welcomed the move. Such welfare oriented maternity laws help build human resources and keep the employees happy. Prior to this amendment, a lot of multinational companies in India such as Nestle already had a longer period of maternity leave. This amendment consolidates common practices across the world and puts them into a much needed modern law.
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