If only you had listened more carefully during the induction! Don't sweat... here is a quick look at the Maternity Act and the benefits it has to offer.
The Maternity Benefits Act, 1961 states:
A pregnant working woman is entitled to six weeks of paid leave. An employer cannot knowingly employ her in any work during the six weeks that starts from the day of delivery. However, if she herself were to request the permission to work before or after delivery, then she should not be assigned any arduous jobs or made to stand long hours.
When you take your six weeks of leave is really up to you. For example: you could take three weeks before your due date and the rest after delivery.
The six weeks are compulsory. However, the maximum number of days may vary according to the policy of an organisation. Some companies offer anywhere between three to six months leave.
"If you have any casual leave or compensatory offs pending, you can use them during this period,"
According to the Act, six weeks of paid leave is mandatory. However, if your organisation allows more than six weeks,whether you will be paid for the days beyond six weeks depends on company policy.
If you earn less than Rs.10,000, your company may offer you the State Employees Insurance scheme (ESIC). It is a government scheme, wherein a small amount will be cut from your salary every month.
If you are eligible for ESIC, then the maternity leave provided by your company will be unpaid. Instead, you will have to claim the amount from the ESIC office in your city. However, all the legwork will have to be done by you.
The ESIC cannot be exchanged for the monetary benefits provided by the company.
The Act is applicable to all women working in any establishment.
However, to be eligible, you need to have worked in an organisation for at least 80 days before your due date.
To avail the leave and benefits, you need to submit a written notice to your employer. The notice date should start from when you are going on leave.
You may give the notice before or soon after delivery.
It also depends upon the company policy. Some organisations ask for a notice before you take leave.
Even if you forget to submit the notice, you can still claim the maternity benefit. "It is advisable to have it in writing. It can be used as proof in court in case of any discrepancy,"
Dismissal on Account of Pregnancy
When you are on maternity leave, your employer may not discharge or dismiss you from work. It is equally wrong if your employer were to change any of the conditions or terms of your service to your disadvantage without your knowledge during the leave period.
Even if you were to be dismissed, you are still entitled to receive the maternity benefit or bonus.
The employer has the right to terminate your services if you indulge in any gross misconduct such as disclosing confidential company information for personal gains or stealing company documents. In this case, you may have to forfeit the Act benefits as well.
However, if you are fired during the leave period on unjust reasons (such as absence from work due to pregnancy or for requesting a flexible working time), then you can take legal action against your employer.
In any such event, file a case in the Industrial and Labour court. The court will then issue a notice to the employer.
"Depending upon the case, the court will decide on a suitable monetary compensation," explains Madon. Apart from the pay, the employer can also be imprisoned for up to three months.
The Maternity Benefits Act is a beneficial tool for all pregnant working women. However, it is up to you to take advantage of it.