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Wrongful Termination after Maternity Leave: A Guide for Indian Women

In India, the journey towards gender equality in the workplace has been fraught with challenges, one of the most persistent being the wrongful termination of female employees during or on account of maternity. The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 a social welfare and benevolent legislation aimed at safeguarding the rights of women during pregnancy and childbirth. However, despite these legal provisions, instances of employers exploiting loopholes to terminate female employees during and post-maternity leave are rampant. 


Employers often justify such actions by citing organizational restructuring, claiming that the employee's role and position no longer exists, while all other employees continue to work in the same capacity. This raises a fundamental question: Can the elimination of a single position truly be considered restructuring, or is it a smokescreen to push out new mothers?

 

The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, specifically Section 12, safeguards a woman's employment during her pregnancy and maternity leave. It makes it unlawful for employers to:

  • Discharge or dismiss an employee during or due to their maternity absence.

  • Issue dismissal notices that expire during maternity leave.

  • Alter an employee's service conditions to their disadvantage during this period.

 

The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 also acknowledges the challenges new mothers face when returning to work. It mandates establishments with 50 or more employees to provide a crèche facility for childcare. Additionally, it guarantees nursing mothers two breaks of 15 minutes each per day until their child is 15 months old. These provisions demonstrate the Maternity Benefit Act's intent to facilitate a smooth transition for women back into the workforce after childbirth.

 

In a landmark judgment, it was held that “to become a mother is the most natural phenomenon in the life of a woman. An employer has to be considerate and sympathetic towards her and must realise the physical difficulties which a woman would face at the advanced stage of her pregnancy to perform her duties while carrying a baby in the womb or while rearing up the child after birth and this what has been taken note of by the Parliament in its wisdom while enacting the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961. The object behind is to provide all the facilities to a woman in a dignified manner so that she may overcome the state of motherhood honourably, peaceably, undeterred by the fear of being victimized for forced absence during the pre-post-natal period.”

 

Therefore, it is essential that the employment of the female, while temporarily vacated on account of her availing maternity leave, should be protected until she resumes back work in order to avoid the female being marginalised in the labour market. Moreover, a female being deprived of employment for carrying out her biological role is nothing short of penalising her for choosing to be a mother, which not only undermines her economic security but also threatens her status, dignity and self-respect.

 

If you find yourself in this situation, here are some steps you can take:

 

  • Consult an attorney specializing in labour law. They can advise you on your legal options and help you file a complaint with the appropriate authorities.

 

  • Gather evidence. Keep copies of all relevant documents, such as your employment contract, maternity leave application, and any communication regarding your termination.

 

  • Reach out to the designated Welfare Officer (Women) cum Inspector appointed under Section 14 of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961. These officers are specifically appointed to address grievances related to the Maternity Benefit Act. They are competent authority to investigate your case and pass appropriate order. An appeal against the order passed by the Welfare Officer (Women) cum Inspector can be made to the Labour Commissioner under Section 17 of the Maternity Benefit Act. This appellate authority holds the power to adjudicate disputes and ensure compliance with the provisions of the Maternity Benefit Act.

 

In conclusion, the wrongful termination of female employees post-maternity leave under the guise of organizational restructuring is legally untenable and contrary to principles of gender equality and workplace inclusivity. Employers must recognize their obligation to uphold the rights enshrined in the Maternity Benefit Act and provide a conducive environment that enables women to thrive professionally while embracing motherhood. It is only through collective efforts, encompassing legal vigilance, institutional accountability, and societal awareness, that we can foster a workplace culture that cherishes and empowers women at every stage of their journey.

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Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

nice article

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Reetika Gupta

4 LH, Lanco Hills

Manikonda

Hyderabad- 500089

Email: reetika@aristolegal.co.in

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