The President of India has given his assent to the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 (“Amendment Bill”) that has made changes in some of the provisions of over 55-year-old law i.e. The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 (“The Original Act”) entitling certain benefits to women employees. The New Act provides more ease to women falling under the Maternity benefit Scheme. Some of the Salient features of the New Act are:
- Increase in the duration of maternity leave to 26 weeks:
The Amendment Bill increases the maternity leave benefit to a period of 26 weeks. The maternity benefit should not be availed before eight weeks from the date of expected delivery. Prior to this, woman were entitled to maternity leave benefit of 12 weeks only of which not more than six weeks should precede the date of her expected delivery.
- Maternity leave of 12 weeks for mother/s who are adopting or commissioning mothers:
In terms of the Amendment Bill even a woman who legally adopts a child below the age of 3 months or a commissioning mother shall be entitled to maternity benefit for a period of 12 weeks. The 12-week period of maternity benefit shall be calculated from the date the child is handed over to the adopting or commissioning mother. This benefit has been introduced for the first time for adopting and commissioning mother/s. The commissioning mother has been defined as biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo plant.
- Option to work from home:
After availing the maternity leave benefit, an employer may allow a woman to work from home, if the nature of work assigned to her is such that she may work from home. The terms, conditions and duration for the work from home arrangement would be as per the mutual agreement between the employer and the woman. The Original Act did not provide for an option to work from home.
- Crèche facility:
Upon having 50 or more employees, every establishment is required to have the facility of crèche within such distance as may be prescribed, either separately or along with common facilities. The employer is required to allow four visits a day to the crèche by the woman, which will also include the interval for rest allowed to her. Under the provisions of the Original Act there was no requirement to provide for a crèche facility on the part of the employer.
- Awareness about maternity benefits:
Every establishment is required to intimate in writing and electronically to every woman at the time of her initial appointment regarding every benefit available under the Amendment Bill. The Original Act was silent on these aspects.
The Amendment Bill shall help approximate 1.8 million women workforce in organized sector, and regulate grant of maternity benefit to women employees in certain establishments. India is at the third position globally in terms of the number of weeks of maternity leave after Canada (50 weeks) and Norway (44 weeks).