India's Maternity Benefit Act 1961 has been empowering women for over four decades now. Here's how to apply for leave if you suffer a miscarriage or are undergoing a tubectomy operation.
While the birth of a child brings joy to the entire family, and bring with it celebrations and happiness, the loss of a child, whether by way of a miscarriage or still-birth is often something that the parents, and more importantly, the mother, tends to internalise. Unfortunately, in cases of miscarriages, the physical and emotional trauma that the mother goes through is most of the times overlooked.
Cramping, heavy bleeding, feeling extremely fatigued and weak are some of the symptoms that women who have gone through miscarriages face. Yet, even though the physical pain heals, emotional healing takes a lot longer. For the working woman, having to go back to the office without a break to process and heal from miscarriages, does sound insensitive and inhumane.
Earlier this week, New Zealand’s Parliament passed legislation giving mothers and their partners the right to paid leave following a miscarriage or stillbirth. In the passing of this legislation, New Zealand becomes the second country in the world to do so. While social media is elated and congratulatory messages are being left on various news articles that have reported this, most of us are unaware that the first country to have this codified into its laws, is our very own India. This provision has been part of India’s laws since as early as 1961.
The Maternity Benefit Act 1961 states that in the case of miscarriage, a woman will be entitled to paid leave for six weeks immediately following the day of her miscarriage.
Additionally, women suffering illness arising out of miscarriage shall, on providing of medical proof, be entitled to paid leave, of up to one month.
When compared to other countries like Britain, where the parents-to-be who experience a stillbirth after 24 weeks are eligible for paid leave, in Australia, women who miscarry are entitled to unpaid leave, if they lose a foetus after 12 weeks. In the United States, on the other hand, the employer is not required to provide leave for anyone who suffers a miscarriage.
India’s law on miscarriage leave, a step ahead
- In India, the miscarriage leave is over and above New Zealand’s three days. The Act was introduced to establish maternity benefits for employed women in the periods before and after childbirth.
- Women undergoing a tubectomy operation, a medical procedure to stop future pregnancies, also get a paid leave of two weeks following the operation.
- Way before working from home became the norm, the law made provisions to permit women employees to work from home in addition to the maternity benefit period, if the nature of work allows for it.
The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 applies to all shops and establishments with 10 or more employees. The employer must inform women in writing and electronically about the maternity benefits available under the Maternity Benefit Act upon their joining the workforce.
While this is a law that has been in existence for over four decades now, Rekha Shastri, an employee with an MNC in Bengaluru says, “I have been undergoing IVF treatment and have so far had two miscarriages. Both times I took a few days off as sick leave and was back to work. I had no idea about this law and neither did the company Human Resource (HR) mention it to me.”
What’s the procedure to avail of the miscarriage leave?
- If you wish to avail of this leave, you will need to submit medical proof to the HR personnel of the company.
- Besides six weeks of paid miscarriage leave, employees are also entitled to an additional one month of paid leave in case of complications or poor health after a miscarriage.
- There is no limit on the number of times women can avail the benefit of the miscarriage leave policy.
Perhaps there needs to be a systemic approach to making sure that such progressive laws are made public and more time and energy is spent on writing and talking about them.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)