On August 11, 2016, the Government of India (GoI) introduced the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 (Bill) in the Parliament. The Bill was introduced to amend the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 (Act) – the Act, as many may be aware, is the legislation to provide certain benefits to women in the context of pregnancy. The Act is applicable to factories, mines and plantations as well as to every ‘shop and establishment’ (a statutory term that would ordinarily cover various organizations in the private sector with an office/place of business in India) in which ten or more persons, are/ were, employed, on any day over the preceding twelve months.

On September 11, 2008, the GoI introduced the recommendations of the Sixth Central Pay Commission relating to enhancement of the amount of maternity leave and introduced child care leave in respect of central government employees. Effectively this resulted in increase in maternity leave and child care leave. Separately, several companies in the private sector introduced more beneficial provisions for female employees including better maternity leave than the Act provided. However, the Act did not introduce any changes in line with the changing needs of working women /mothers which the Bill intends to address.

Some Key Features 

Commissioning Mother and Adopting Mother: The Bill has proposed to introduce the concept of a ‘commissioning mother’ which means a biological mother who utilizes the method of surrogacy for child bearing and extends the benefit of the Act to her.  The Bill has also proposed to introduce the concept of adoption in the Act. According to the Bill, a woman who legally adopts a child below the age of three (3) months (or a commissioning mother) will be eligible to maternity benefit for a period of twelve (12) weeks from the date the child is handed over to the adoptive mother or commissioning mother, as applicable.

Duration of Maternity Leave: While the Bill maintains that a woman will be eligible for maternity benefits, provided she has actually worked in an establishment for a period of not less than eighty (80) days in the 12 months preceding the date of her expected delivery, it proposes to increase the period of such leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. Further, under the Act, an eligible woman could avail herself of maternity benefits for upto six (6) weeks from the expected date of delivery which benefits have been now proposed to be extended to 8 weeks under the Bill.

Work from Home: The Bill has formally introduced the concept of ‘work from home’ which means that if the nature of work is such that the same could be done from home, then an employer may allow a woman to do so, post maternity benefit period, on conditions mutually agreed between the woman and the employer.

Creche Facilities: The Bill has also brought in a provision requiring every ‘establishment with fifty (50) or more employees to provide a creche facility within a prescribed distance.  Additionally, the employer is also required to allow the woman employee to visit the creche four (4) times  in a day with an interval for rest.

Information to Women Employees: The Bill introduces a provision which requires every establishment to explain in writing and electronically to every woman, at the time of her initial appointment, every benefit available under the Act.

Given the increasing number of working women in India, these changes are welcome. Historically, women have been discouraged from getting involved in strenuous jobs on account of the perceived adverse effects on a mother’s as well as child’s health. It is also true that companies are introducing attractive and employee friendly policies to not only welcome new talent but also to retain it. The Bill seems to have taken a cue from the fact that several organisations allow employees to ‘work from home’ as an employee friendly measure, and have formally decided to introduce it, albeit it has been left to the mutual agreement of employer and women employees to agree upon the details. Conclusively, the proposed provisions in the Bill are thus a step in the right direction and will address a hitherto under-addressed aspect.