India has come a long way when it comes to the maternity leave policy. While the Maternity Benefit Act still has gaps and there’s still poor execution on the organizational level – the recent reforms are highly welcoming.
In August 2016, The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017 was passed by the Rajya Sabha. It was approved by the Lok Sabha in March 2017.
The new law brought a range of positive changes. If you’re a working woman, it’s a good idea to be educated about these changes. In case you plan a pregnancy, you would be better equipped to advocate for yourself.
The maternity leave of a woman is a period of time that she is allowed to take off work and care for her newborn child. This can vary from country to country, but in general, maternity leave lasts between six weeks and one year.
Prenatal leave is particularly a period of paid leave allowed to women weeks before delivery. It is primarily intended at allowing to-be-mothers to rest and follow up with their medical appointments.
Earlier, the paid maternity leave in India was 12 weeks for working women. After the amendments in the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, that period is now 26 weeks.
This is eligible for women working in an organization that has more than 10 employees.
The prenatal leave has increased as well from 6 weeks to 8 weeks.
Also, a woman who already has two children is eligible for 12 weeks of maternity leave for the third child and other children in the future.
Similarly, if you adopt a child under the age of three months, you’ll be eligible for maternity leave of 12 weeks.
In addition to these leaves, women are also qualified for an extended one month off in case of critical illness post-maternity.
NOTE: A woman is eligible for paid leaves under the mentioned Act only if she has completed working for at least 80 days in the organization in the last one year.
In addition to leaves, pregnant women are also entitled to INR 3,500 as a medical bonus. And they can further draw INR 6,000 under the National Food Security Act 2013.
While you’re pregnant, your employer can’t hand over physically straining tasks that might affect the mother and child.
They will also have to be careful about the health and safety of the to-be-mother.
During pregnancy, the employer also cannot dismiss or discharge you.
If you’re pregnant, discuss the maternity leave with HR or any relevant stakeholder.
Ideally, HR should provide a written policy that outlines all the terms and instructions for maternity leave.
Understand all the terms and conditions of the leave (how long it will be, how much you will get paid, and what you would need to do to join back. Make sure you’re getting all that the law entitles you to.
In case an employer fails to adhere to the Maternity Act, they could be penalized a fine of INR 5,000 and/or be imprisoned that can extend up to a year.
During this course, it’s also important to discuss things with your doctor. Different women have different needs; some may need a longer prenatal leave, others might be able to come back to the office sooner. Discussing your health with the doctor will help you plan your maternity leave effectively.