Maternity Leave in India: Will Private Companies follow the suit?

Maternity Leave in India: Will Private Companies follow the suit?

By Murlidhar Srivastava

Women employees have to take a break from their work due to life stage needs like maternity and child care. Maternity leave therefore becomes one of the most imperative needs of a working woman. It is also the social responsibility of every employer to ensure that working women do not leave the workforce. Companies must support its women employees during motherhood, which is one of the most sensitive stages in a woman's life, by providing maternity leave, child care leave, flexible working hours, including work from home wherever possible.

It has been seen that a large number of women put an end to their careers as they find it difficult to balance work and family obligations. A recent survey by the Assocham found that 25% of first-time mothers quit jobs to raise children.  And it definitely is a sad picture especially in a country where female participation in the workforce is already low, ranking poorly amongst major global economies.

All these facts warrant that every woman is entitled to liberal Maternity Benefits for certain periods before and after childbirth, and her employer is liable for the payment of maternity benefits.

Maternity benefit act 1961 says

Every woman shall be entitled to, and her employer shall be liable for, the payment of maternity benefit, which is the amount payable to her at the rate of the average daily wage for the period of her actual absence. The maximum period for which any woman shall be entitled to maternity benefit shall be 12 weeks in all whether taken before or after childbirth.

Earlier this year, India’s ministry of labour announced amendments in maternity benefit act 1961 extending paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks which brings India in the list of 16 countries, which have the longest paid maternity leave. [The Times of India].

Now going further, government is considering extending maternity leave from the current 26 weeks to eight months, as said recently by the Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi. [www.ibtimes.co.in]

But the big question is, what about the private sectors in India which employ a large number of female employees? These extended benefits are at present existing only in the govt sector and not binding on the private sectors. There is no law that instructs the private sector to make it obligatory. Women in the private sector are often hard-pressed for such leave beyond the current 12 weeks.

Recently it has been heard that the government is preparing to implement the new extended maternity leave of 26 weeks in private firms also, which has been eagerly awaited by a large number of female workforce in private sector in India. But even before that, as a good and appreciable gesture, there are some organizations in private sector, which has increased the maternity leave and benefits to support their female employees through their motherhood.

Deloitte has declared 26 weeks of maternity leave to its women employees. Companies like Pricewaterhouse Coopers and KPMG are also set to extend it to 26 weeks. [Economic Times].

Airtel has increased maternity leave to 22 weeks to provide adequate support to its female employees. [Indiatoday.In].

Flipkart is extending maternity leave to 24 weeks. It also provides flexible working hours with full pay for upto four months after their maternity leave. If needed, women can also take a 1-year career break without pay. [indiatoday.in]

Microsoft India is offering 6 months maternity leave and also 2 weeks paternity leave to new fathers. This is in addition to the option of availing unpaid leave for up to three months and flexible work arrangements for up to two years. [The move is aimed at further boosting a healthy and productive work environment as well as emotional upliftment of the company's workforcetimesofindia.indiatimes.com]

Nestle India has extended its maternity leave policy to 6 months. Besides, a paternity policy has been introduced with a leave of five working days with full pay. [DNA].

Facebook now offers a minimum of four months of paid leave to full-time employees who are new mothers. [NDTV.com]

Accenture has increased maternity leave benefits for all its women employees in India to 22 weeks. [NDTV.com]

HCL Technologies, Godrej and Hindustan Unilever (HUL) offer six months of maternity leave to all women employees. [indiatoday.in].

The increased maternity leave is a welcome move for all working women in India. These giant private organizations have voluntarily set an example for others to follow. We hope very soon others too will follow the suit. It will not only make them retain an intelligent female workforce but retain a highly satisfied and motivated workforce. And remember there is no asset bigger for an organization than a “motivated workforce.” It will not only make the organization grow but will make India grow.