Recently, the Madras High Court dismissed an appeal that Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation filed , directing it to pay maternity benefits to a temporary employee. The High Court held that maternity benefit is a welfare legislation that employers cannot deny on the basis of mere technicalities. Let us understand what maternity benefits are available in India.
What is Maternity Benefit?
In India, the Maternity Benefit Act 1961 ensures the well-being of women before and after the delivery. Maternity benefit is the amount an employer pays a woman when she is going to have a child. It helps protect the rights of women employees during pregnancy. It provides them with paid leave and other benefits so that they don’t suffer any negative consequences on account of their pregnancies nor are they forced to work in the later stages of pregnancies and post-partum.
Who can seek Maternity Benefits?
You can seek maternity benefits if you are a woman and if you are:
- Pregnant for the first time
- Pregnant with one child or 2 children already
- Adopting a child below the age of 3 months
- Having a child through a surrogate
- Recovering from a miscarriage, abortion or tubectomy operation
Under what type of employment can you seek Maternity Benefit?
Maternity benefit does not differentiate between permanent, temporary and contractual employees, so denying the benefit to any type of worker is against the law.
Casual/ Muster Roll employee
Courts have held that even women engaged on a casual basis, or on a muster roll basis on daily wages, are entitled to get the benefit of maternity leave at par with regular employees.
Contractual employees are also entitled to 26 weeks of maternity leave. However, a woman cannot avail maternity benefits after the expiry of the contract period.
What is the period of Maternity Leave?
Women are entitled to a maximum period of 26 weeks of maternity leave. Remember, you cannot take more than 8 weeks of leave before the expected delivery date. If you already have 2 or more children, then you can take only 12 weeks of total maternity leave. In case you are adopting a child who is below 3 months of age, or you are a commissioning mother, then you can take only 12 weeks of total maternity leave.
If you want to know how to claim maternity benefits, you can read our explainer here.
Here are a few important points for all women to remember:
- During your maternity leave, the employer cannot change the condition of work to your disadvantage.
- If you are fired or dismissed during your pregnancy, you are entitled to receive maternity benefits or a medical bonus.
- Your employer cannot cut your salary based on the fact that you are not able to do strenuous work during your pregnancy.
- Your employer cannot cut your salary for taking nursing breaks either.
- You can only be dismissed or disentitled from maternity benefit in cases of gross misconduct.
What did the court say?
A temporary employee applied for maternity leave for the period during which she was required to undergo mandatory training. The corporation granted her maternity leave with a loss of pay. The court directed the corporation to treat her leave period as duty period and also extended all service and maternity benefits during this period.
The transport corporation appealed stating that only a non-permanent woman employee who had completed 160 days of work in 12 months was eligible to claim maternity leave. Since the petitioner had completed only 145 days of work, she was not eligible for maternity leave.
The court disagreed with this contention. The court directed the corporation to pay the amount decided by the single judge within four months failing which the corporation would have to pay a cost of Rupees Fifty Thousand.
You can read more about maternity benefits in our explainer, here.