What is a Maternity Benefit policy?
Article 42 of Directive Principles of State Policy states that, “the State shall make provisions for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief.”
Working women under the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 (“Act”) are allowed to take maternity leave for up to three months. This law also makes sure that maternity leave is payable and that working women are entitled to payment. The amount payable to her is equal to the rate of average daily wage for the period of her actual absence.
In the past, employees would fire women and in the case of labour intensive work field women workers would have to sometimes compensate and overwork if they were pregnant which was extremely mentally and physically stressful and also injurious to the health of the mother and the child. Thus to remove any sort of hardship on the women, such laws were enacted.
What are the changes under the new laws?
The following changes took place via The Maternity (Amendment) Act 2021:
1. Maternity leave has been raised from 12 weeks to 26 weeks;
2. Prenatal leave is extended to 8 weeks;
3. If a woman already has 2 or more children, she is liable to only 12 weeks of maternity leave and 6 weeks pre-natal leave;
4. Adoption leave of 12 weeks is available for women who adopt a child under 3 months;
5. The Act also allows for a 12 week leave for commissioning mothers. Commissioning mothers are those mothers who fertilize their eggs to create an embryo, and implant it into another woman for incubation;
6. Female civil servants are allowed 180 days of leave for their first two born children;
7. A pregnant woman is also entitled to a medical bonus of up to Rupees One Thousand if no free medical care has been assigned by the employer; and
8. In an establishment of 50 plus employees, a Crèche facility is to be provided by the employer.
What should the Maternity Benefit Policy include?
Every establishment shall include these essential clauses in their Maternity Benefit Policy:
1. Policy Brief and Purpose;
4. Duration of Paid Maternity Leave;
5. Procedure to contact the Company during Maternity Leave;
6. Manner of notification to the Company or HR team as prescribe in the appointment letter;
7. Creche Facility;
9. Maternity pay and additional maternity benefit;
10. Return to work guidelines; and
11. Annexure including the Forms as prescribed in the Act.
Pregnancy is a natural process, and the intellect or working potential of women employees will not disappear to the phase. As a developing nation, where we promote education for the girl child, maternity benefits should be considered seriously and implemented in all organizations with total support from the government. It is extremely important that women are given proper maternity leave in order to ensure not only their health but the health of their children. Theincreased the duration of maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks is one such step towards welcoming the changes.
The content of this article is intended to provide general guidance on the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.
Key words: Maternity leave, Commissioning Mother, Adoption Leave.