Maternity Benefits in India

Maternity benefits are essential to protect the health and well-being of expectant mothers and their newborns. They provide financial support during the crucial period of pregnancy and childbirth, ensuring access to proper medical care and nutrition.

Maternity benefits also promote gender equality by recognising the unique challenges faced by women in the workforce and enabling them to balance work and family responsibilities.

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By offering maternity benefits, societies can foster a more inclusive and supportive environment for working mothers, ultimately contributing to healthier families and communities.

The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, has been replaced by the Code of Social Security, 2020, which incorporates provisions related to maternity benefits under Chapter VI. This law article discusses specific maternity benefits under the Code on Social Security, 2020.

Applicability of Maternity Benefit

The first schedule of the Social Security Code, 2020 outlines the scope and applicability of Chapter VI, which pertains to Maternity benefits. The provisions of this chapter apply to the following:

  • All establishments categorised as factories, mines, or plantations, including those owned by the government.
  • Any shop or establishment that employs ten or more workers, either presently or at any time within the preceding twelve months.

Additionally, the appropriate government has the authority to notify other shops or establishments that fall under the purview of these maternity benefit provisions.

Chapter VI of the Social Security Code ensures that maternity benefits are provided to eligible women working in specific establishments, as mentioned in the 1st schedule.

Maternity Benefits Under the Code of Social Security

To avail of the following maternity benefits, a woman must meet the following condition, as stated in section 60(2) of the Code of Social Security, 2020:

She should have worked in the employer’s establishment for at least eighty days within the twelve months leading up to the anticipated delivery date. Only after fulfilling this requirement will she be eligible to claim maternity benefits from her employer.

1. Right to Payment of Maternity Benefit

Section 60 (1): Every woman is entitled to maternity benefits at the average daily wage for her period of absence before and after childbirth.

Section 60 (2): To claim maternity benefits, a woman must have worked for at least eighty days in the employer’s establishment within twelve months before her expected delivery.

Section 60 (3): The maximum maternity benefit period is twenty-six weeks, with a reduced duration for women with two or more surviving children.

Section 60 (4): Maternity benefit is granted to women who legally adopt a child below three months and to commissioning mothers for twelve weeks from the child’s handover.

Section 60 (5): If a woman’s work allows, she may work from home after availing of maternity benefits, subject to a mutual agreement with the employer.

2. Payment of Maternity Benefit in Case of Death of a Woman

Section 63: If a woman who is entitled to receive maternity benefit or any other amount under this chapter passes away before receiving such benefit or amount, or if the employer is responsible for providing maternity benefit under the second proviso to subsection (3) of section 60, then the employer must make the payment to the person nominated by the woman in the notice given under section 62.

If no nominee is mentioned, the payment should be made to the woman’s legal representative. In the unfortunate event of the woman’s death, the designated recipient or legal representative will receive the entitled maternity benefit on her behalf.

3. Payment of Medical Bonus

Section 64: Every woman eligible for maternity benefits under this chapter is also entitled to receive a medical bonus from her employer. The medical bonus is set at three thousand five hundred rupees or an amount specified by the central government.

This bonus is given when the employer does not provide free pre-natal confinement and post-natal care. In essence, the medical bonus serves as compensation for medical expenses incurred by the woman if her employer does not offer these healthcare services without charge.

4. Leave for Miscarriage

Section 65: In the event of a miscarriage or medical termination of pregnancy, a woman is entitled to a leave of six weeks with wages at the rate of maternity benefit. This period begins immediately after the day of her miscarriage or termination.

Similarly, suppose a woman undergoes a tubectomy operation. In that case, she is eligible for a two-week leave with wages at the rate of maternity benefit starting from the day of the operation, provided she presents the required proof prescribed by the central government.

Moreover, suppose a woman experiences any illness related to pregnancy, delivery, premature birth of a child, miscarriage, or medical termination of pregnancy. In that case, she can present proof specified by the central government and be granted additional leave with wages at the maternity benefit rate for one month.

The provisions ensure women are granted the necessary time off and financial support in pregnancy-related situations.

5. Nursing Breaks

Section 66: Every woman who has given birth and returns to work after delivery is entitled to nursing breaks. In addition to the regular intervals for rest allowed to her, she must be given two breaks during her daily work, as determined by the central government.

These breaks are provided to nurse her child until the child reaches fifteen months of age. The central government will prescribe the specific duration of these nursing breaks. This provision ensures that new mothers have adequate time to attend to their nursing responsibilities while continuing to work.

6. Creche Facility

Section 67: Every establishment covered by this chapter and employing at least fifty employees (or a prescribed number by the central government) must provide a creche facility within a specified distance.

The crèche may be provided either separately or as part of common facilities. The employer must permit the woman to visit the creche four times a day, including during her rest intervals.

Alternatively, establishments may opt for a common crèche facility provided by the central government, state government, municipality, private entity, non-governmental organisation, or a group of establishments that pool their resources to set up a shared creche, subject to their mutual agreement.

Additionally, the establishment must inform every woman in writing and electronically about all the benefits available under this chapter at the time of her initial appointment.

Case Law

In the case of Mrs Prachi Sen vs Ministry of Defence, the Karnataka High Court ruled that the work-from-home benefit under the Maternity Benefit Act could only be given if the nature of work assigned to the woman allows for remote work.

The petitioner, an executive engineer at Semi-Conductor Technology and Applied Research Centre (STARC), which is an arm of the Ministry of Defence, the government of India, sought to work from home after her maternity leave but was involved in sensitive and complex defence research that couldn’t be conducted remotely.

While the court denied the work-from-home benefit, it directed STARC to be compassionate towards new mothers during the pandemic and provide adequate childcare facilities.

Conclusion

Maternity benefits provided under the Code of Social Security of 2020 are essential for the well-being of expectant mothers and their babies. These benefits include financial support, nursing breaks, creche facilities, and medical bonuses.

By promoting gender equality and supporting working mothers, these provisions contribute to healthier families and communities. The Code’s enactment replaces the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961 and marks a significant step towards creating a more inclusive work environment for women.

Gayatri Singh
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