The Premise: Salient features of the Amendment
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.
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.”
- Pallavee, new mother and HR professional at an IT company, Mumbai
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
“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!”
- Deeksha, new mother and employee of an IT firm, Kolkata
“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!”
- Siva Karthik, digital marketing specialist, a SaaS company, Delhi
“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!”
- Sirisha Ravipati, implementation engineer, a SaaS company, Bengaluru
“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.”
- Vishnupriya, marketing analyst, a SaaS company, Bengaluru
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.”
- Jyoti, serial entrepreneur, Mumbai
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?
“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.”
- Ketan Bhatt, Independent HR Consultant, Ahmedabad
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.
- But what if she needs to attend client meetings at the office, interact over the phone with international clients, work upon confidential information, etc.?
- What if the employer doesn’t have a Work-From-Home (WFH) policy? What if creating a WFH policy for women employees creates friction and raises expectations among male employees too? Wouldn’t such a policy be discriminatory by nature?
- What if the employer needs to install and maintain additional IT infrastructure, such as creating VPNs for remote access, etc.?
Isn’t this forcibly putting additional costs and risks on the business owner/organization?The Ugly
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.”
- Suresh, CEO - startup IT firm, Coimbatore
“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.”
- Unnikrishnan, a small business owner, Bengaluru
“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...”
- Sreekumar Nair, Business Analyst, an IT product company, Chennai
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.
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.