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Maternity leave policy in India: Understanding rules, benefits, eligibility

Learn about the maternity leave policy in India, including the acts that govern it, eligibility criteria, and its role in promoting inclusive workplaces

Published: May 6, 2024 05:52:20 PM IST
Updated: May 6, 2024 05:53:22 PM IST

Maternity leave policy in India: Understanding rules, benefits, eligibility

The maternity leave policy in India is more than just employment benefits; such policies are tools for social change, empowering women and contributing to a more equitable society. As India continues to develop and modernise, such policies are poised to play a critical role in shaping a more inclusive and gender-equal future. Let’s understand all about maternity leave in India.

Understanding the Maternity Benefit Act 1961

The primary law governing maternity leave in India is the Maternity Benefit Act 1961. It aims to help women balance their work and family responsibilities and promotes gender equality in the workplace. Here are the key provisions of the act, adjusted with amendments undergone in 2017:

  • Applicability: This act applies to every establishment with ten or more employees covering the public and private sectors.
  • Maternity leave: The Maternity Benefit Act 1961, amended in 2017, entitles women to 26 weeks of paid maternity leave. This can be availed for up to two children, with the leave for the third child being 12 weeks​​​​​​. Adoptive mothers are eligible for 12 weeks of leave for a child below three months old. Surrogate mothers are also entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave​​.
  • Exceptional circumstances: In cases of tubectomy, a woman is eligible for two weeks of leave. If a woman suffers from illness arising out of pregnancy, delivery, premature birth, etc., she is eligible for an additional month of leave.
  • Payment during leave: During her maternity leave, the woman is entitled to receive her average daily wage or salary.
  • No termination: An employer cannot terminate a woman's employment during her maternity leave period.
  • Protection against discrimination: The act prohibits employers from discriminating against pregnant women in any way, including concerning promotions, salary increments, or other benefits.
  • Creche facility: Establishments with 50 or more employees must provide a creche facility within a prescribed distance for female employees. Female employees can visit the creche four times a day.
  • Additional benefits: The Act includes provisions for a work-from-home option, a maternity bonus under the National Food Security Act of 2013, and healthcare incentives.
  • Work from home option: After 26 weeks of maternity leave, there is an option to work from home, subject to discussion and agreement with the employer.

Eligibility for maternity leave in India

The Maternity Benefit Act governs a woman’s eligibility for maternity leave in India. According to the act, women are entitled to maternity benefits if they have worked for their employer for at least 80 days during the 12 months preceding the expected delivery date.

Companies and fields covered in maternity leave policy in India

The maternity laws in India cover the following companies and fields:

  • The act applies to women in various sectors, including industries, factories, shops, mines, plantations, and other establishments. The Act covers the organised and unorganised sectors as long as the establishment has ten or more employees.
  • The Act mandates maternity benefits in both the public and private sectors.
  • Besides the general provisions of the Maternity Benefit Act, other laws provide maternity benefits in specific sectors. For example, the Employees’ State Insurance (ESI) scheme, a self-financing social security and health insurance scheme for workers, offers maternity benefits to women in lower-income jobs. The Working Journalists Act and the Factories Act also provide maternity benefits but may have different coverage and benefit provisions.
  • Global banks and multinational corporations in India often exceed the minimum legal requirements to provide enhanced maternity benefits. These include extended leave, childcare allowances, flexible hours, and post-natal career development support. This is done to attract and retain talented female employees in a competitive market.

Benefits of maternity leave in India

Policies around pregnancy leave in India aim to support the mother and child's well-being, ensure women's job security, and promote gender equality in the workplace. Here are the benefits of maternity leave policy in India:

  • Health and recovery benefits: Maternity leave allows women to focus on their health and recover from childbirth. It provides the necessary time to rest and recuperate both physically and emotionally​​.
  • Bonding with the child: The leave period is crucial for mothers to bond with their newborns, especially important for breastfeeding and nurturing during the early stages of a child's life​​.
  • Work-life balance: Maternity leave helps women balance their professional commitments and family responsibilities, ensuring a smoother transition back to work​​.
  • Job security and legal protection: The law ensures that employers cannot terminate or unfairly treat women due to their pregnancy or maternity-related matters​​.
  • Flexible work arrangements: After maternity leave, women can work from home, depending on the nature of their job and mutual agreement with the employer​​​​.

Importance of maternity leave in India

In Indian societies, women historically have had a lower status, and their participation in the workforce remains comparatively low. Maternity laws in India play a huge role in empowering this marginalised group. Here’s how they stand to benefit the whole society:

  • Addressing gender inequality: In India, there is a huge gender gap in workforce participation. According to the World Bank, India ranks 120th out of 131 countries in female labour force participation, with only 37% of women participating in the workforce. Maternity leave policies can help bridge this gap by supporting women who want to balance motherhood with a career encouraging more women to enter and remain in the workforce.
  • Legal and economic empowerment: The Maternity Benefit Act of 1961 protects working women, ensuring they are not unfairly dismissed due to pregnancy and childbirth. This legal backing empowers women economically by safeguarding their income and job security during a crucial phase of their lives.
  • Social impact: In societies where women's roles have been traditionally confined to domestic spheres, progressive maternity leave policies challenge these norms. By recognising and supporting women's dual roles as professionals and mothers, these policies help shift societal attitudes and promote gender equality.
  • Health and well-being: This leave period allows women to recover from childbirth and establish a bond with their newborns. In a country where women's health often takes a backseat, especially in lower-income groups, such policies are vital for improving maternal and child health outcomes.
  • Creating inclusive workplaces: Maternity leave laws mandate provisions like creche facilities and nursing breaks, pushing organisations to create more inclusive and family-friendly workplaces. This benefits women and fosters a more equitable work environment for all employees.
  • Economic benefits: While initially appearing as a cost to employers, maternity leave policies can lead to long-term financial benefits. They help retain experienced female employees, reduce turnover costs, and improve overall workforce morale and productivity.