Previously under the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, female employees were entitled to only 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. However, after the Maternity Benefits (Amendments) Act, 2017, the duration is now 26 weeks. Plus, there’s a penalty in case of non-compliance with the rules and regulations. But before going any further, let us tell you what is a maternity leave supposed to be in India, what is its eligibility criteria along with the duration, associated laws and several other things. You must certainly keep these in mind while planning your pregnancy especially when you engage working in a private/ public firm.
What Is A Maternity Leave?
Unless you’ve gone through the process, the term seems to be obscure. But, this article will help you clear your doubts.
Maternity Leave is a genuinely purposeful policy by the government of India. It specifies a duration for the pregnant female employees in which they are on leave under the Maternity Leave Act (Amendment 2017). This helps them in taking care of the newborn baby and temporarily stop working for the company. It entitles the woman to full compensation. So, maternity leave is a paid leave policy considering certain criteria that women employees need to fulfil to validate their application.
What’s The Duration Of A Maternity Leave?
Duration of the maternity leave as of now (according to the Maternity Benefit Act, 2017) is 26 weeks. Earlier, this duration was 12 weeks. And, the female employee can start with her benefits around 8 weeks before the due date. These are prenatal benefits. So, the timespan of the prenatal leave is 8 weeks and post-delivery is 18 weeks. However, for women with more than 2 kids, the duration is 12 weeks of maternity leave including 6 weeks of prenatal leave.
What’s The Eligibility Criteria?
What makes you eligible for maternity leave under the Maternity Benefits (Amendments) Act, 2017, is at least an 80-days employment period to apply for the benefits. And, it is in the last 12 months that you must have completed the said term of 80-days. Unfortunately, if in case you’ve had a miscarriage, the benefits extend to 6 weeks of recovery leave right from the date of the incident.
What’s The Law For Adoption or Fostering A Child?
According to the Maternity Benefits (Amendments) Act, 2017, the sanctioned leave is of 12 weeks right from the date of adoption. The benefits are valid only if the couple adopts a newborn or an infant less than 3 months of age. Unfortunately, there’s no provision of leaves for adopting or fostering a child older than the set limit.
Importance of Maternal Leave
Planning for a baby is a big and beautiful decision. But it comes with huge responsibilities. And what goes at stake is the mental as well as physical well-being and strength of the couple. Taking responsibility can get even more challenging when both the parents are working. For the stay-at-home mothers, it’s relatively easier to take care of the child. But, does that mean the working moms aren’t entitled to being there for when the kid needs them? Since women are the child-bearers and homemakers, there are provisions in the law with regards to taking a timely work-off during pregnancy and even after the delivery.
So, before proceeding any further with the incentives, let us explain to you the benefits of having maternal leaves:
- When the employer extends such benefits, it adds a personal touch and creates a sense of belongingness for the workplace.
- The woman is better able to take care of herself and the baby since she’s not working in the office.
- Another important aspect is how paid leaves relieve any financial burdens which can otherwise create havoc. Pregnancy doesn’t come in cheap. It is accompanied by massive bills including health care of the woman for 9 months and for the baby thereafter. It comes along a list of charges for prenatal care, delivery, medications, vaccinations, and postnatal stuff.
- Talking of finances, paid maternity leaves are especially helpful for low-income group employees or single mothers.
- On the psychological front, relaxed delivery and post-delivery phase decrease the risk of postpartum depression.
- Women can heal better, catch up on the needed sleep and then get back to work.
- Moreover, women return with a refreshed energy and mindset, determined to contribute 100% to the organization.
- Also, the provision directly helps invest in retaining the workforce.
- And, it ideally reduces the wage gap too!
Can You Extend The 26 Weeks Duration?
Well, if at all a woman requires an extension due to unavoidable health concerns, it is possible. However, you will have to formally produce all the documents for the employer’s reference. And, each of these is to be from a certified medical practitioner. Once the organization is sure, it can definitely increase the duration. But, keep in mind that this will not be a paid leave as per the law that defines a remuneration of only up to 26 weeks.
What Are Paid & Unpaid Leaves?
Any extension, if granted by the employer, is unpaid no matter what the circumstances are. However, the 26 weeks of maternity leave is paid as well as taxable under the benefits facilitated by the government. It is no different from a paycheck. The compensation is based on your average everyday earnings. It is calculated over a period of three months right before the confirmation of maternity leaves.
How To Apply For A Maternity Leave?
There isn’t a set structure, format or any kind of application form that you have to fill. Every organization has a custom procedure for assigning maternity leaves. Usually, the pregnant woman must apply for the same at least 2 months in advance. Whatever rules and regulations your organization follows, they’ll let you know. However, you can apply for the prenatal leaves at least 8 weeks before your due date.
Also, do not worry – it won’t be a lengthy procedure to carry out. There aren’t any major formalities and things go quite easily if the staff is friendly.
What Happens When The Leaves Are Over?
As per the benefits that a pregnant woman gains based on the Maternity Benefits (Amendments) Act, 2017, you are eligible for a paid and taxable leave for 26 weeks. This includes 8 weeks of the prenatal period. Once this period comes to an end, you can opt for Work From Home depending upon your health, the situation of the baby as well as the nature of work. Such a provision allows the mother to better take care of herself and the newborn child. If you can and the employer permits, work from home is a feasible and paid option.
What If You Don’t Go Back To Work?
The answer is simple – According to the law, you can only claim 26 weeks of paid maternal leave. Thereafter, if you plan to terminate your contract or employment without any proper justification, you will not have the right to receive any compensation.
Can Pregnancy Be A Reason To Fire You?
No! Under no circumstances can an employer terminate the pregnant woman’s employment contract based on the fact that she is expecting a child. Working women must totally condemn such an attitude and understand their workplace rights. Under the amended Maternity Benefit Act, it is illegal for the employer to take such an action.
Are There Any Other Benefits?
Firstly, no one at work can compel you to work on anything arduous before 10 weeks of the delivery date until the birth of the baby.
Secondly, if the organization you work for has a 50+ employee structure, you have the right to attain a crèche facility once you return on the job. You can visit the facility up to 4 times a day. The act also allows 2 nursing breaks apart from the regular breaks that you get at work until the child is 15 months old. You keep getting the medical bonus even if discharged during pregnancy (but not upon gross misconduct).
Finally, What Is Maternity Benefit Act 2017 All About?
There are certain laws as well as rights that are essentially put into the legal framework of an organization offering privileges to the employees working there. So basically, these are incentives that make the employment tenure worth it. Maternity Leave Act, 1961 is one of those benefits. It safeguards the interest of working women who plan to conceive and balance both their professional as well as personal life.
Fundamentally, the act entitles a pregnant woman the needed time and finances to take care of her well-being and also of the child’s health. The recent amendment increases the paid leaves duration from 12 to 26. It also extends some scope for surrogate as well as adoptive mothers. There are 8 weeks of paid leaves before delivery and 18 weeks of paid leaves post-childbirth or you can just take them entirely altogether. The cap remains to be 12 weeks in case you are fostering or adopting a child. Providing crèche facility becomes mandatory for the organization with 50+ employees and work from home is also an attainable benefit. The female employees also have the right to be aware and educated of the concerning workplace benefits. The HR or similar grade representative should provide a copy of such details (benefits) to the women workforce upon their joining in written or electronically.
Over and above the allowed capping, a woman who undergoes a medical termination of the pregnancy, has had a tubectomy surgery or faces any illness after delivery can claim an extension of 1 more month (with wages).
But, talking of the limitations in the act, the women who are pregnant with their first or second child are only eligible to avail the scheme benefits. 80 days of continuous service along with earning up to Rs. 15,000 restricts the law even further.
Despite the pros and cons of the available structure, the act helps several expectant mothers to take care of their well-being and the child to be born. Since a woman has to deal with a lot of stress post-delivery, such benefits help balance the professional as well as personal life. So, the implication of such a step has a long way to go. What is even better? When the people, for whom such laws are put into use, remain up-to-date and desist exploitation.