Maternity Benefit-Extendable After Contract

Nischala Maruvada , Prashaant Malaviya

February 8, 2024

Maternity Benefit - Extendable After Contract

The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 (“MB Act”) has been enacted by the Government of India to effectively regulate the employment of women in establishments and safeguard their employment during the period before and after childbirth. The MB Act entitles a female employee undergoing pregnancy to avail comprehensive maternity benefits including but not limited to medical bonus, paid leaves, and nursing breaks, etc., from the employer.

This article will be analyzing the scope of maternity benefit to be provided by the employers to female employees employed on contractual basis for a fixed term engagement. In consideration to the object of promoting sensitization towards health and wellbeing of female workforce undergoing pregnancy, 3 (three) judge bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of (“Apex Court”) in the matter of Dr. Kavita Yadav Vs. The Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Department & Ors[1]., held that female employees engaged on contract basis can claim maternity benefit despite the period of benefit overshoots the contractual period.  

Facts  

In the instant case, the appellant was a senior resident (pathology) in Janakpuri Super Specialty Hospital. The appointment letter issued to her was purely temporary and as per the residency scheme her period was extendable on a yearly basis up to a maximum of 3 (three) years. Her last extension was for the period of one year from June 12, 2016, to June 11, 2017.

On May 27, 2017, she applied for maternity benefit from June 01, 2017, as per the provisions under the MB Act. However, the employer informed her that only 11 (eleven) days of maternity benefits could be granted. As per the residency scheme, her tenure was expiring on June 11, 2017, and no further extension was allowed/permissible under the applicable rules. The appellant challenged the said action of the employer before the Hon’ble Central Administrative Tribunal, Principal Bench, New Delhi (“Tribunal”). The decision of the Tribunal was ruled in favour of the employer which was further appealed before the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi. However, the High Court upheld the ruling of the Tribunal.

Issue

The issue presented before the Apex Court was whether a female employee appointed on contractual basis is entitled to benefits enumerated under the MB Act provided that the period for which she claims such benefits overshoots the contractual period.

Findings and Observations of the Apex Court

Various judicial pronouncements of the Apex Court and High Court have extensively reiterated on the overall objective of safeguarding the interests of female employees and the fundamental rights of the woman opting to undertake motherhood along with their employment. Further, the Indian courts have also reiterated on the proposition that employers are required to provide maternity benefit to female employees irrespective of their type of employment be it regular employee, contractual employee, consultant, or a daily wage worker.

In the landmark case of Municipal Corporation of Delhi Vs. Female Workers (Muster Roll) & Anr[2], the Apex Court held that “the provisions of Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 entitles maternity leave even to women engaged on casual basis or on muster roll as a daily wage but not only for those in regular employment. It is further held that the provisions of the Act in this regard are wholly in consonance with the Directive Principles of the State Policy as contained in Articles 39, 42 and 43 of the Constitution of India”.

In the case of Deepika Singh Vs. Central Administrative Tribunal and Others[3], the Apex Court observed that “sub-section (1) and sub-section (3) of Section 5 of the MB Act have been made by Parliament to ensure that the absence of a woman away from the place of work occasioned by the delivery of a child does not hinder her entitlement to receive wages for that period or for that matter for the period during which she should be granted leave in order to look after her child after the birth takes place. Furthermore, the MB Act was enacted to secure women's right to pregnancy and maternity leave and to afford women with as much flexibility as possible to live an autonomous life, both as a mother and as a worker, if they so desire”.

In the case of Dr. Shikha Jain Vs. State of U.P.[4], the High Court of Allahabad held that “The purpose of the maternity leave does not change with the nature of employment. It is concerned with human rights of the women. The employers and Courts are bound under the constitutional scheme, guaranteeing right to life, including right to live with dignity and to protect the health of both the mother and child to preserve these rights”.

Analysis and Conclusion

The present case highlights upon the commitment of the Indian judiciary to ensure and avoid any  discriminatory practices followed in terms of addressing claims related to entitlements of maternity benefit to women basis the nature of their employment. The Apex Court's findings and observations, drawing upon previous judicial precedents, emphasize that the entitlement to maternity leave benefits is a universal right for all women employees, irrespective of their employment status, be it regular, contractual, or a daily wager. It also recognizes the importance of reaffirming the Constitution's principles on equality, dignity, and life by empowering and supporting women to manage their roles as mothers and workers flexibly. In essence, by promoting a workplace environment which respects and protects the rights of women regardless of their contractual obligations, this judgment serves as a beacon for justice and equality. Not only does this reinforce the legislative intent of the MB Act, but also underlines the need to nurture a society that values and prioritizes the well-being of mothers in the workplace.

 



[1]  Civil Appeal NO (S). 5010/2023 decided on August 17, 2023.

[2] (2000) 3 SCC 224.

[3] 2022 7 SCR 557.

[4] Service Bench No. 1206 of 2012.

Blog HR, Employment & Labour

Comments

Post A Comment

Your email address will not be published *

GET IN TOUCH WITH US TODAY

Contact Us Now

Awards & Recognitions


Cookies Consent

We use cookies to help you navigate efficiently and perform certain functions. You will find detailed information about all cookies under each consent category below. Read more...