Women employed in the Indian organized sector are now entitled to paid maternity leave of 26 weeks, according to the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill passed on 9 March 2017. This is over two times the previous figure - 12 weeks. The new law will benefit around 18 lakh Indian women. The entitlement will only be applicable for the first two children. For the third child, the entitlement will be for only 12 weeks.
The Bill also calls for all establishments employing 50 or more individuals to provide creche facilities within a prescribed distance. The mother will be allowed four visits to the creche in a day. Also, an employer can permit the mother to work from home, if the nature of her work allows this. This option can be availed of, after the period of maternity leave, for a duration that is mutually decided by the employer and the woman.
Will this amendment do more good than bad in the coming years? Is there more to it than meets the eye? Both employers and employees alike have mixed views on this sensitive subject.
Here’s a collection of the good, the bad, and sometimes, ‘ugly’ opinions, points and counterpoints voiced by various male and female employees and employers that we spoke to.
Read on. Share what you think.
“These changes are really welcome and will help mothers re-join the workforce more comfortably. Many a time, women who can not afford to take unpaid time off end up joining back after three months and they end up in a state of constant guilt about the fact that they are not able to give sufficient care to their infant. Also, I feel six months’ time is required for the mother’s body to completely heal and also for the baby to be left under the care of others. It is also of note that WHO recommends six months of exclusive breastfeeding - something the new changes in the law would allow the opportunity for. As much as the revised duration of maternity leave, the provision for a creche is also quite helpful. These are big steps towards encouraging mothers to re-join the workforce. I am in full support of the changes the Bill has brought.”
I suppose only if you run an organization would you not welcome such a change.”
- Natasha, new mother and employee of a consulting firm, Chennai
“I think progressive organizations will never be against such a move. In fact, the world over there is increasing acceptance and realization that women are necessary in the workforce and how, in the future, their innate skill sets (such as higher EQ, empathy, etc.) will be in demand. This is especially true in the AI-driven world. In the end, women can contribute heavily to an organization’s success and this move to help retain them in the workforce is highly positive.”
“The chores surrounding maternity consume a lot of energy - physically as well as mentally. Some time off does a lot of good for most women. Also, some women feel the need to rejoin the workforce in an attempt to maintain their sanity!”
“I am personally for it because, as a married man, I understand how crucial the first six months will be for a newborn. The mother-child bonding will also happen as it should. Earlier, working mothers in bigger cities had no choice; they had to leave their three-month-old infant in the hands of an aaya or at daycare. After six months of maternity leave, the creche facility will help working women be close to their child even when at work!”
“It’s a great act for women employees! Nowadays, with an increase in cesarean deliveries, pregnancies are getting more and more complicated. Six months of maternity leave will give enough rest and recovery period for women employees. The child also will have decent rest and routine and important parenting tasks and activities will be established. Breastfeeding the child during the first six months also gets it due importance… The only negative aspect is when the female employee is back at work, she may have to catch up on updates, new skills and knowledge. This can affect their performance measurement, appraisals and increment for that year!”
“The six-month maternity leave is a welcome move but the creche facility is a burden for employers. It also raises and poses multiple security risks in today’s times.”
This progressive new law is a signal from the government that biological commitments will not be held against a particular gender. It places India in the third position globally in terms of the number of weeks of maternity leave offered, after Canada and Norway, where it is 50 weeks and 44 weeks, respectively.
Supportive legal environment
With nuclear families on the rise, familial and social support for young mothers is reducing. As a result, women are being forced to give up their careers in order to care for their families. This is a dire loss for society. The proposed changes are a step towards providing a supportive environment for nursing mothers. They will reduce the chances of female employees choosing to leave the workforce after childbirth. The provision for creche facilities and the work from home option further encourage women to resume work after the period of maternity leave.
The new provision would allow a woman to take care of her infant in the most important, formative months of a child and provide her with much-needed work-life balance at a time when she is most likely to drop out of the workforce. This would help increase women’s participation in the workforce.
Also, the amendment opens up the field for employees (both men and women) to negotiate with their employers for a system that would balance their responsibilities as an employee and as a parent.
In the end, the Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Act must be seen as indicative of progress both on the social and moral fronts and not just in financial terms. This contributes to happier and more productive employees.
“This is difficult for employers. On the one hand, we speak about how more women should be hired and then this comes along. As an employer, I would rather recruit a guy for a position than give six months of paid leave to a woman. Six months! For a small company, this is extortion, don’t you think? Although I agree that new mothers don’t have to carry as much guilt and can continue to be with the child longer, I think six months would be too much of a burden to employers.”
“While the new maternity leave law is a move in the right direction, I am not for it in the form that it has been rolled out. In a highly competitive market such as India, the law as it stands today will result in a disincentive to hire women. It needs to be complemented with some sort of agreement to return to the workplace at the end of the maternity leave. Also, companies should be able to take measures to ensure the upskilling of the employee during the period, to the extent that it does not hinder her maternal responsibilities.”
“To minimize the incidences of maternity benefits, employers could resort to skillfully declining candidature of a qualified but just-married woman. Even though there’s an increase in the number of DINK (Dual Income, No Kids) couples, the probability of pregnancy in the first two years of marriage is still higher in India owing to its social fabric wherein in-laws continue to have some influence on the couple’s decision to conceive. Given the emphasis on speed of work and 26-week maternity leave (more than double the previous provision), it’s entirely possible and even legit to some extent that an employer might change the role of the concerned woman employee post their return from maternity leave. Such changes, moderate to absolute, could be more profound in cases of extended maternity leave. These changes in the job would hamper the career direction and growth prospects of concerned woman employees.”
Economic burden on business owner
This long ‘maternity period/leave’ is a burden on the business owner.
Developing countries like India are mostly small-business economies. Also, small businesses are mushrooming faster than large companies today. The financial situations of these SMBs are not as strong as bigger companies or MNCs. An employee on six months of paid maternity leave will have a larger negative impact on a smaller company, which is one of the largest employer segments in India.
The business owner can’t even employ another employee in her place to perform those tasks, as after the maternity leave, she’ll be back. Getting a new employee on rolls or even on contract just for few months may not be feasible. Even if it’s feasible, the business owner will have to get the new recruit trained, file and document all necessary statutory compliances such as PF, ESI, etc., for the replacement employee too. Also, in the interim three/ six months, can the business owner convince another existing employee to take additional tasks and responsibilities, which the female employee had shouldered? Will that employee have the bandwidth or interest? What if, he or she quits because of the additional set of tasks and responsibilities thrust upon him/her?
Isn’t this a burden on the employer?
Also, it may so happen that most tasks being performed by female employees in an organization can be carried out from the safe and comfortable confines of a home. Not being sexist, just stating facts! All they need may be a good Internet connection and other important resources.
Isn’t this forcibly putting additional costs and risks on the business owner/organization?
Creche is a concern
In Tier 1 cities and SEZs, it’s easier to set up creches within the common facilities but what about but what about a relatively isolated company that employs over 50 individuals? They’ll have to set up a creche, which adheres to prescribed safety standards for the children. This means, they should employ new resources who’ll look after and maintain the creche. This is an additional project by itself that’ll take a lot of time, money, and effort every month.
26 weeks! That’s six months of ‘free payout’!
Isn’t that an incentive for employers to now employ more male candidates? In the long run, will this amendment not skew the gender ratio in favor of males in most organizations?
Quite a few of the opinions we got from employees and employers bordered on worst-case scenarios, conspiracy theories, and prejudices and experiences based on personal life events and outlook.
We’ve gathered a few of those ‘dark’ opinions for you to ponder over:
“It looks like the government wants the employers to bear half the cost of increasing our already high population! Why should an employer bear the costs of paying a non-productive employee and also pay/ share costs of maintaining a creche? The responsibilities of the creche and its employees are also upon their employers! This is too much. I think this will be a failure and especially, small businesses will find it tough to implement and sustain.”
"Why don't all the people, who believe that this is a valid case, grant a six-month paid sick leave to their maid(s) whenever she’s pregnant and do all the housework themselves until she is back? "
“This amendment looks progressive but in our patriarchal society and mindset, it’s certainly regressive and will backfire badly. It’s regressive as most small businesses (except a few MNCs) will look upon this amendment as an economic and psychological burden. They’ll dread hiring new female employees.”
“In a country like ours, this is a disaster waiting to happen! The people who start and maintain creches will hire low-income people from all walks of life. They may not be trained to handle infants and toddlers! How do we ensure background verification for all creche employees? What if they abuse the infants? Who’ll be responsible?
Even in premier schools, we have many instances of teachers and bus conductors/ drivers abusing kids! There, at least the kids are old enough to speak… In creches, they can’t even speak! I am worried about that aspect...”
Why would anybody want to employ a female during her prime years/ marriageable age (18 through 30) anymore? For instance, if a female employee joins an organization and gets pregnant within a few months, she’s eligible for maternity leave of up to 26 weeks. If she has two or more surviving children, she’s entitled to a maximum of 12 weeks of maternity leave period.
Not rejoining post maternity leave is a serious concern
What if a woman employee chooses not to rejoin the same company after her six-month paid maternity leave? How will her employer handle this? Doesn’t he/she have to begin the hiring and training process all over again? These are additional costs, which aren’t hidden! They’re glaring holes, which should be plugged.
Can this be solved by making the woman employee sign an agreement that she’ll rejoin the company and work for at least a year post her maternity leave? What do you think?
Work from home = Work for home
If you’ve ever tried working from home, you’ll know that it’s easy for a WFH session to devolve into a work for home one! What we’re getting at is that domestic chores that demand an employee’s attention - especially that of a new mother - may leave her with a low productivity score where her official work is concerned. This is yet another unpleasant reality that the law does not consider.
At greytHR, we support the progressive spirit of the amendment and the positive intent behind it. The concerns we mostly heard echoed across the board were those surrounding its finer points, the implementation angle and from an ecosystem perspective.
What are your thoughts?
We would love to hear from you.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article or its comments section are those of the authors and commentators. This blog post/ article is a compilation of various ‘personal views and opinions’ expressed by those whom the authors spoke with. Please note that we’ve changed the names of the employees and employers, who’ve provided their comments, on requests of anonymity. greytHR doesn’t endorse any views or opinions made on this article/ blog post. greytHR believes in adhering to all statutory compliances.