In today’s era where women strive to achieve equality at the workplace, married women are under constant dilemma. They are worried about their professional life and how their pregnancy might hinder their career. They require a lot of time to take care of their newborn as well as their own health. A maternity leave permits a pregnant lady to take a paid leave from her work place to enable her to take care of her newborn during the initial months.
The Maternity Benefit Act provides for the paid maternity leave at the rate of her daily remuneration in the three months preceding her maternity leave period. For claiming this benefit a woman should have worked for the employer for a minimum of 80 days in the 12 months before the date of her expected delivery.
Amendments made to the Act
The amendment made in the Act in 2017 are as follows:
- Earlier the Act provided for maternity benefit of 12 weeks, in 2017 it was extended to a period of 26 weeks. If a woman already has more than two existing children, she has a maximum of 12 weeks of maternity leave.
- The Act has been amended to grant maternity leave of 12 weeks to commissioning and adoptive mothers too, commencing from the date she receives the baby.
- The Act made it compulsory for establishments with more than 50 employees to make crèches, where mothers can visit their babies during work hours.
- The amendment also introduced “work from home” if it is convenient owing to the nature of the job.
Women who undergo a tubectomy operation also get two weeks paid leave after the operation. If miscarriage takes place or pregnancy is medically terminated, then she gets six weeks’ leave after the procedure.
Duty of the Employer and Penalty for Non-Compliance
An employer cannot terminate the services of the lady on maternity leave. He cannot change the terms and conditions of the leave making it unsuitable for the lady. It is the duty of the employer to inform the women, by electronic means or in writing, about the maternity leave benefits under the Act when she joins the establishment.
Section 21 of the Act reads as follows: –
21. Penalty for contravention of Act by employer
(1) If any employer fails to pay any amount of maternity benefit to a woman entitled under this Act or discharges or dismisses such woman during or on account of her absence from work in accordance with the provisions of this Act, he shall be punishable with imprisonment which shall not be less than three months but which may extend to one year and with fine which shall not be less than two thousand rupees but which may extend to five thousand rupees:
PROVIDED that the court may, for sufficient reasons to be recorded in writing, impose a sentence of imprisonment for a lesser term or fine only in lieu of imprisonment.
(2) If any employer contravenes the provisions of this Act or the rules made thereunder, he shall, if no other penalty is elsewhere provided by or under this Act for such contravention, be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to five thousand rupees, or with both:
PROVIDED that where the contravention is of any provision regarding maternity benefit or regarding payment of any other amount and such maternity benefit or amount has not already been recovered, the court shall, in addition, recover such maternity benefit or amount as if it were a fine and pay the same to the person entitled thereto. The Act has been drafted to protect the rights of the women and to enable her to provide maternal care to the newborn which is very crucial for the growth and development of the baby.