Motherhood is a crucial time in the life of a working woman. Expectant mothers who are working full-time require support from their employers in the form of maternity leave and other health benefits. While the extent of these benefits depend on the HR policies of each organization, there are some minimum requirements laid down by the law.
The Maternity Benefits Act, 1961
The law mandates that expectant mothers are entitled to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave: six weeks prior to delivery and six weeks after giving birth. The law also forbids organizations from showing any discriminatory behavior towards pregnant women. No organization can terminate the employment of a woman on grounds of her pregnancy. A pregnant woman is required to give a written notice of the period for which she will be absent.
Additionally, pregnant women are allowed an additional month of sick leave, if the leave is for a health problem caused by the pregnancy, and the relevant proof is submitted. In the case of a miscarriage, women are allowed six weeks leave from the date of the miscarriage.
Once the mandatory requirements are taken care of, HR policies can be as liberal as the organization chooses. There has been growing awareness of the effects that stress (experienced by the pregnant women) can have on the health (physical and mental) of the mother as well as the child later in life. With this in mind, organizations are increasingly creating more flexible policies to benefit expectant mothers. In addition to extended maternity leaves, companies are also offering benefits such as maternity claims, travel allowances during pregnancy, flexible working hours, and assistance with day-care services.
In recent times, organizations have been creating attractive maternity policies for women who are planning motherhood. Workplaces such as Google, Flipkart, InMobi, Accenture, to name a few, have extended maternity leave of five to six months. This is followed by flexible work options, where the mother can work from home or avail of flexible hours in which she can work. Women are also entitled to maternity cover and travel allowances in the period leading up to the maternity leave.
One important area has been the introduction of crèches at the workplace; in some cases, they also have workstations there so the mother can work by her baby's side. Many organizations also have tie-ups with day-care centers and assist new mothers in availing this service. Companies also have dedicated nursing rooms in their offices.
The goal of these policies is to allow new mothers a smooth transition back into the workplace, having devoted their attention to the baby during the nursing period. The reduced stress also boosts the mother's mental health and greatly reduces the risk of mental illness in the prenatal and postpartum period.
While both central and state government employees are eligible for a 15-day paternity leave, there is no such law for people working in private organizations. However, several organizations nowadays are starting to recognize the role of father during pregnancy and after birth. To allow for the father to fulfill his domestic responsibilities, organizations such as Facebook have started introducing paid paternal leave policies, extending up to four months.