Alert, moms! Maternity leave in India is now 26 weeks

Good news, mothers. On 10th August 2016, the Cabinet approved amendments to the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961, aiming to increase maternity leave from a period of 12 weeks to 26 weeks. This introduced the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016.To begin with, what is the Maternity Benefits Act of 1961? It’s main goal is to protect the employment of women when they’re in confinement after childbirth. Till yesterday, this meant that they were on a continuous paid leave for three months. But everyone knows that three months is barely enough for a new mum to adjust to her new schedule and her new body - she spends that time recuperating, and she doesn’t even have the time to make arrangements for a nanny before she has to rush back to work. Which is why most women end up quitting their jobs. And we all know that once you’re out of the workforce, it’s no golgappa getting back in.Enter the 2016 Amendments Bill. Let’s take a quick look at what it’s done for us:
  • Whether you’re having your first or second kid, paid leave for new mums has gone up from 3 months to 6 and a half months
  • If have more than two kids, you still get 3 months off
  • If you’re a commissioning mother (if you’ve had a kid through surrogacy), you get 3 months off
  • If you’re an adoptive mother, you get 3 months off
These rules apply to any workplace that employs 10 people or more. That means this is supposed to reach at least 1.8 million women in India’s organised sector.There’s no doubt that this targets parents who follow the two-child norm. As a working mother, you’ll think twice about having more than two children when you don’t get as much time off with the third one as you did before. On the other hand, if you’ve already had two kids and have managed to keep yourself employed through it, you’re likely to have made arrangements for someone to take care of them during the day, be it your mother, mother-in-law or nanny, so you don’t need time to make those adjustments for one more baby. That could also be the reasoning behind adoptive or commissioning mothers - you would’ve had the time to make all the arrangements you need to before the baby was born, as you didn’t have to deal with pregnancy, and you’ll have three months after her birth to adapt to and bond with her.Just because the amendment bill has been passed, however, it doesn’t mean that you’ll always benefit from it as you should. Unfortunately, employers constantly find loopholes in the Act to either dismiss or force you to take unpaid leave. So I think every current or prospective mother should be aware of these legal obligations of an employer:
  • No employee can be denied maternity leave as long as she’s worked in the establishment for at least 80 days in the 12 months preceding the date of delivery
  • The employee must apply for leave in writing at least 7 weeks in advance
  • No employer can dismiss a woman on account of leave post delivery or miscarriage
  • For the same reason, no employer can employ a woman in the six weeks following her delivery or miscarriage
  • No employer can dismiss a woman during her maternity leave
  • There can’t be any disadvantageous changes to the employee during maternity leave
  • If the employer overrules these obligations due to gross misconduct on the part of the employee, he/she must inform her of the termination of her maternity benefits
  • She then has 60 days in which to appeal this dismissal
  • If she wants to quit during her maternity leave, she can hand in a written notice, and until the notice period is complete, she will continue to avail all maternity benefits