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Maternity Benefit Act: Women’s Economic Rights in India

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  • Post published:November 4, 2023
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Last Updated on November 4, 2023 by Sumitha

Maternity benefits play a crucial role in safeguarding the economic rights and job security of women in the workplace. In India, the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961 serves as a cornerstone for providing these benefits to women employees. This comprehensive legislation includes provisions for maternity leave, medical bonuses, paid leave, and nursing breaks. These provisions are designed to protect the livelihood and interests of female employees while giving them the opportunity to care for their newborns and themselves. In this article, we will delve into the Maternity Benefit Act 1961 and its 2017 amendment, exploring its significance, eligibility, rules, and benefits.

Maternity Benefit Act 1961

The Maternity Benefit Act 1961 establishes a legal framework for maternity benefits in India. It extends support to women during the birth of their child, ensuring that their financial well-being is safeguarded during the crucial period of maternity. Key provisions of this act include maternity leave, medical bonuses, paid leave, and nursing breaks. Women working in recognized organizations and factories can take maternity leave for up to 6 months. During this period, the employer must pay the full salary to the woman employee.

Maternity Benefit Act 2017: Expanding Maternity Benefits

The Maternity Benefit Act 1961 underwent significant amendments in 2017 to enhance its provisions and offer more comprehensive support to women employees. The 2017 amendment introduced several critical changes:

1. Increase in Maternity Leave Duration

The original act provided for a 12-week maternity leave. However, the 2017 amendment extended this duration to 26 weeks, benefiting all women. This extended leave can be availed of by taking 8 weeks before the expected delivery date and the remaining 18 weeks after delivery. Notably, for women who already have two children, the maternity leave remains at 12 weeks for the third and subsequent children.

2. Maternity Leave for Commissioning and Adoptive Mothers

The amendment expanded maternity leave eligibility to include adoptive mothers and commissioning mothers. Adoptive mothers and commissioning mothers can now avail 12 weeks of maternity leave. This period starts from the day the child is given to the commissioning or adoptive mother.

3. Option to Work from Home

The 2017 amendment also recognized the importance of flexible work arrangements. It allows employers to permit pregnant women to work from home if the nature of their work permits. After the standard maternity leave period, women can also work from home for a mutually agreed-upon period between the employer and the employee.

4. Creche Facilities

The 2017 amendment introduced a crucial provision for childcare services in workplaces with 50 or more employees. Employers are required to provide creche facilities located nearby and allow the mother to visit the childcare facility four times a day. This helps support the balance between maternal duties and professional responsibilities.

Maternity Leave Applicability

The Maternity Benefit Act applies to women working in public and private sector organizations, including government jobs, mines, plantations, factories, and organizations with 10 or more employees. However, it does not cover women working in organizations with fewer than 10 employees and self-employed women.

Maternity Leave Eligibility

To be eligible for maternity leave under the Act, a woman must have worked with her employer for at least 80 days in the 12 months preceding her expected delivery date.

Maternity Leave Rules

The Maternity Benefit Act enforces several rules that protect women employees. Employers must pay their full salary during the maternity leave period, calculated based on their actual salary or daily wages in the three months preceding the maternity leave request. Women should not be employed during the six weeks immediately following delivery or miscarriage. Employers must provide childcare provisions and restore the woman to her previous position upon her return from maternity leave.

The Act also emphasizes the importance of providing hygienic restrooms, comfortable working conditions, safe drinking water, and avoiding assigning strenuous tasks to pregnant women within 10 weeks of their expected delivery date.

Additional leaves can be granted in cases where women are unable to return to work after the standard maternity leave period through a mutual agreement. Moreover, work-from-home options can be negotiated between the employer and the mother.

Maternity Leave Application

Expecting mothers can apply for maternity leave by giving written notice to their employer, applying through the company portal, or sending an email to their employer. These channels ensure a seamless process for availing maternity leave.

Maternity Leave for Government Employees

The Maternity Benefit Act 1961 extends its provisions to state and central government employees. Government employees, like their private sector counterparts, can take maternity leave for 26 weeks, with the option to start 8 weeks before the expected delivery date. Adoptive mothers and commissioning mothers can also take 12 weeks of maternity leave after the child is handed over to them.

Maternity Leave Benefits

Maternity leave offers a range of benefits that are vital for both women employees and their newborns:

  1. Financial Security: Women on maternity leave are entitled to receive their entire salary for the period, along with medical benefits. This financial support ensures their economic well-being during this crucial phase.
  2. Job Security: Employers are prohibited from dismissing or firing women employees solely due to pregnancy or while they are on maternity leave. This provision safeguards women’s job security during pregnancy.
  3. Career Continuity: Maternity leave enables women to take time off for childbirth while continuing their employment, supporting them in maintaining their career progression.
  4. Physical Recovery: New mothers need time to recover from childbirth and focus on their physical health. Maternity leave provides this essential recovery period.
  5. Bonding and Attachment: The leave also allows new mothers to spend quality time with their newborns, which is vital for bonding and attachment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the Maternity Benefit Act 1961?

    The Maternity Benefit Act 1961 is a significant piece of legislation in India that provides maternity benefits to women employees in both public and private organizations. It ensures maternity leave, medical bonuses, and paid leave.

  2. Who is eligible for the Maternity Benefit Act 1961?

    All pregnant women, women adopting a child under three months, and commissioning mothers working in recognized organizations are eligible for maternity benefits under the Act.

  3. How many weeks is maternity leave?

    Maternity leave is 26 weeks for first and second-time mothers, 12 weeks for the delivery of the third and subsequent children, and 12 weeks for adopting children below three months. In cases of miscarriage or medical termination of pregnancy, a woman can take maternity leave for 6 weeks.

  4. How to apply for maternity leave?

    Pregnant women can apply for maternity leave by notifying their employer in writing, using the company portal, or sending an email.

  5. Is maternity leave paid?

    Yes, maternity leave is paid, and employers are obligated to provide the full salary to women on maternity leave.

  6. Can maternity leave be extended in India?

    Maternity leave can be extended through mutual agreement between the employer and the mother if the mother cannot return to work after the standard maternity leave period.

  7. Can maternity leave be taken after delivery?

    Yes, women can take maternity leave after delivery. Out of the 26-week maternity leave period, they can use 8 weeks before and 18 weeks after delivery.

  8. Can my employer replace me while I am on maternity leave?

    Employers cannot replace or dismiss women on maternity leave. Upon return, women should be reinstated to their previous position, and it is unlawful to dismiss or discharge women during pregnancy or maternity leave.


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