The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, hereinafter referred to as ‘the Act’, protects the employment of women during the time of their maternity and entitles them of a ‘maternity benefit’ i.e., full paid absence from work – to take care of themselves and their child. It applies to factories, mines, plantations, shops, and other establishments. It also amends provisions related to the duration and applicability of maternity leave and other facilities.
In this legislation, definition clause is given under Section 3, wherein the definition of a child is mentioned under Section 3(b) of the Act and other terms such as ‘employer’, ‘establishment’, ‘maternity benefit’, ‘miscarriage’, ‘wages’, ‘women’, among other terms are defined.
- Section 4
The employer shall not knowingly employ a woman and she shall not work in any establishment for six (6) weeks immediately following the day of her delivery or miscarriage.
A pregnant woman, for a period of 1 month preceding the 6 weeks before expected delivery, shall not be required by her employer to do any work of arduous nature or work involving long-standing hours or work that is likely to interfere with her pregnancy or natural development of fetus or work likely to cause miscarriage or work that will adversely affect her health.
- Section 5 and 7
Every employed woman shall be entitled to payment of maternity benefit at the rate of the average daily wage for the period of her actual absence (includes pre and post-delivery period).
Here average daily wage means the average wages of the preceding three months, that she would have earned if she worked during that period of time, or Rs. 1/- per day, whichever is higher.
Women claiming maternity benefit should have worked in that establishment for a period not less than 160 days in 12 months (includes lay off period) immediately preceding the date of expected delivery.
The maximum period of receiving maternity benefits is 12 weeks (6 weeks before delivery and 6 weeks after birth). If the woman dies during this period, maternity benefit is payable for the period including the day of death. If the woman dies after giving birth; the child is alive, the benefit is payable for the whole 6 weeks. If the woman dies after giving birth; the child also died, the benefit is payable for a period including the day of death. On the death of the woman, her nominee or legal representative shall be entitled to receive the amount (Section 7).
- Section 5A
Every employed woman is entitled to payment under the Act, until her application is qualified under Section 50 of the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948.
- Section 6
Every employed woman shall serve a written notice to the establishment claiming for an absence period (not earlier than 6 weeks from date of delivery) and benefits payable to her or her nominee.
Upon receipt of the notice, the employer shall permit the absence. The amount for pre-delivery shall be paid in advance upon proof of pregnancy and the remaining amount for the subsequent period shall be paid within 48 hours of proof of delivery.
The failure to serve notice does not dis-entitle the woman from benefits, the Inspector (Section 14-17) shall in his motion or upon an application, act on the payments.
After a woman is permitted to absent herself from work, if she still continues to work, the employer shall forfeit her claim for that period (Section 18).
- Section 8
If no pre-natal and post-natal care is provided free of charge by the employer, every woman is entitled to benefit shall also be entitled to a medical bonus of Rs. 25/-.
- Section 9 and 10
In case of miscarriage, a woman shall be entitled to paid leave at the rate of maternity benefit for a period of 6 weeks immediately following the day of miscarriage, upon proof of the same.
In case of illness arising out of pregnancy, delivery, premature birth, or miscarriage, a woman shall be entitled to paid leave at the rate of maternity benefit for a maximum of 1 month in addition to 6 weeks, upon proof of the same.
- Section 11
After returning to duty, the woman is entitled to take two breaks of prescribed duration from her daily work for nursing the child until the child attains 15 months age. This is in addition to the interval already allowed for her.
- Section 12
When the woman absents herself from work in accordance with the Act, it shall be unlawful to discharge or dismiss or give notice for the same or cause any disadvantage on conditions of her service. Even if this is done, it will not deprive her of benefits and bonuses.
An exception to this Section is; dismissal on grounds of gross misconduct, the same shall be communicated via written order and deprive her of benefits or bonus or both.
The woman shall be entitled to appeal to prescribed authority within 60 days from the date of communication of the order. That decision shall be final.
- Section 13
No deductions can be made in the normal wages of the woman entitled to benefits for reasons of nature of work or breaks taken.
CONCLUSION In order to protect the rights of women employees during pregnancy and after childbirth, Indian law makes it mandatory for most establishments to offer maternity benefits to women employees.