The Maternity leave struggles

By Priti Bhengra in Editor's Pick 05/03/2019

Motherhood is one of the most beautiful feeling in the world, with a new life to look ahead to. It might be one of times when a woman feels most anxious with unknown challenges waiting in the near future, especially for a first time mother. It is therefore expected from all around her to be more understanding and helpful to her. Why is it then that many companies suspend women from their jobs when they are off work on maternity leave?


Maternity leave is every woman’s right and should not be a cause of burden when she is already off worrying about a new member of the family. Returning from a parental leave is already a stressful time due to the anxiousness of leaving the child with a caregiver. But if a mother returns to non-existent job, it is even more worrying, as it feels very unrewarding after all those years of hard work.


A new mother often go into depression and to take away their last hope – their job, is more than just being brutal towards them. Most of the career dedicate women hesitate in starting a family of their own because they are very aware of the deep plunge their career might take. This creates strain between married couples and can result to divorce.


Only when companies become more understanding towards pregnant ladies can women with big dreams of their career can be comfortable enough to plan out their own personal life.


In 2017, the Indian government passed the Maternity (Amendment) Bill which protected the employments of women during the time of their maternity and entitled them to a ‘maternity benefit’ – i.e. full paid absence from work – to take care for her child. The Act was made applicable to all establishments such as factories, mines, plantations, Government establishments, shops and establishments under the relevant applicable legislation’s, or any other establishment as may be notified by the Central Government. The eligibility for the maternity benefit was for the woman to have been working as an employee in the establishment for a period of at least 80 days in the past 12 months.


Although this amendment was of utmost help for working women, it also put women in danger of getting employment, as companies would avoid employing women who have the slightest chance of going away on maternity leave.


Some of the adverse implications anticipated were:


Reduced Hiring of Women Employees: As mentioned before, private sector companies would see this as a cost and reduce the employment of women in their workplace. The fact of investing in such long duration paid leave or temporary replacements in place of them would become too much of a cost for small companies. This may make the company to make changes in their hiring pattern, and all together avoid the applicability of the policy to their set-up. This in turn can reduce gender diversity and reverse the efforts that are needed to create inclusive workplaces.


Role Availability and Career Progression Challenges for Women Who Rejoin: Even for women who rejoin after a period of 6 months or more, there is no easy way to catch up to the fast progressing technological advancement in the industry. They would need additional time for up-skilling themselves and adding to their existing portfolio. It would become even more troublesome for women who have a travelling related job, for it might become difficult to travel on business with a newborn baby on tow. Hence the dream of a smooth transition from motherhood to work is close to impossible.


No Application of the Policy to a Huge Set of Working Women Who are in the Unorganized Sector: A sizable population of Indian women work in unorganized sector such as contract labors, which is not covered by the policy. A lot of criticism on this front has come forth because many feel that the policy widens the divide that already existed between women who had at least some provisions available from the beginning, and those who had no policy coverage at all.

Even with such problems faced due to the policy, companies such as Microsoft have set the bars very high with implementing the parental leave policy and working on hiring of women with a career gap due to uninformed suspension while on maternity leave. Microsoft started to work on paid leave policy in 2015 and introduced the paid parental leave in 2018 to show support for their workers. They provides 12 weeks paid parental leave in offices with more than 50 employees. Microsoft has also taken to hiring women with small or a long career break while adjusting to their new motherhood life.


Some companies like HUL (Hindustan Unilever), Airtel, and Google are inspirations who provided maternity and paternity leaves even before the policy came into office. HUL offers 11 weeks of paid maternity leave; 8 weeks unpaid maternity leave and 6 weeks paid paternity leave. Airtel offered 12 weeks paid maternity leave which was increased to 22 weeks paid leave after the introduction of the Maternity Amendment Bill in 2017. Google offers paid maternity leave ranging from 18-22 weeks with 7 weeks paid leave for fathers and adoptive parents, and to show their support to their employees the company gives gifts for child’s birth.


Companies like Star India took The Maternity Amendment Bill to an all new level by providing a 6 + 6 month maternity plan. They offer 6 months paid and 6 months unpaid maternity leave and 4 weeks paid paternity leave. Some companies like WIPRO, Mindtree and Infosys acted on it immediately after The Bill was passed and extended their Maternity Leave Policy.


With these types of steps taken to help women with making their work life more comfortable, even with some adverse implications, it has given women the right to dream of stable career alongside a happy family life.


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