Women working in the private sector, especially those in the information technology industry, may get to work from home after child birth once they exhaust their maternity leave, if their employers allow it.
The proposed amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 — which Parliament is likely to take up this week — encourages employers to permit women employees to work from home for some time after child birth.
“We are not making it mandatory for employers to allow new mothers to work from home. It will be up to the employers to decide. Also, the duration for which women should be allowed to work from home will have to be decided by the employers and may vary from company to company,” said a senior Union labour ministry official.
The proposed bill also seeks to increase maternity leave to six-and-a-half months from the current three months in private jobs and six months in government service.
Women face harassment or discrimination in the workplace after child birth, a global phenomenon highlighted in many reports. In 2015, the UK-based Equality and Human Rights Commission estimated that in Britain, close to 54,000 new mothers leave their jobs every year because they are “dismissed”, made “compulsorily redundant” or “treated poorly”.
No study has been carried out in India to estimate the extent of discrimination faced by working women, especially new mothers.
In a first, the proposed bill recognises the need for women who adopt or use a surrogate to bond with their child, and provides for three months of maternity leave for them.
It also makes it mandatory for establishments with at least 30 women or 50 employees, whichever is less, to provide crèche facilities either in office or within a 500-metre radius.
If the bill goes through, India would be among 40 countries in the world where maternity leave is over 18 weeks. The International Labour Organisation’s Maternity Protection Convention mandates a minimum 14 weeks of maternity benefit but recommends 18 weeks.