The fundamental purpose for providing maternity leave is to preserve the self-respect for motherliness, protect the health of women, complete safety of the child etc. Due to the increasing number of women employees in the government and private sector, it became necessary to grant maternity leave and other maternity allowances to working women. But the legal system in India did not contain a comprehensive legislation to protect the women employee in different public and industrial sectors.
The Maternity Benefits Act, 1961 was enacted by the Central Government with an objective to provide leave to working women and to grant other benefits during pregnancy. The Act disallows the employer from knowingly engaging a woman at the workplace six weeks after her delivery or miscarriage. Similarly, a woman is barred from working in any establishment before six weeks of her delivery. The woman shall also not hold any work which adversely affects the heath of the woman or the normal growth of the fetus.
The Act imposes duty on the employer to provide the women with such allowances and benefits determined by law. The woman should have worked in the establishment from which the benefit is to be attained for a term of 160 days immediately before the year in which maternity leave is taken. A woman shall be granted maternity leave for an utmost term of 12 weeks which means six weeks before and six weeks after delivery which includes the date of delivery. The Act further states that the normal wages of the woman who gets maternity leave shall not be reduced stressing the nature of the labor done. Where a woman joins the workplace during the period of maternity leave revoking leave, the employer shall permit her to work but can forfeit her benefits for that term. The woman employee shall furnish a notice which states that her leave on maternity shall be granted and maternity allowances may be paid to her or authorized person as prescribed by the present legislation. The notice shall contain a declaration that she will not work in any other factory, plantation or any other workplace during the term of maternity leave. The employer shall grant leave to the women on receipt of the notice.
The amount of maternity benefit shall be paid to the woman in advance by the employer, when she applies for such grant with sufficient documents as proof of her pregnancy. Where the woman dies before obtaining the maternity benefit, the employer shall pay the amount to the nominee prescribed in the notice or to her legal representative. The woman worker is also entitled to a medical bonus of rupees one thousand from the employer under certain conditions but it can be extended up-to twenty thousand by central government through official gazette notification. The employer shall not dismiss or discharge the woman from employment during the period of her absence due to pregnancy. The Act empowers the appropriate Government to appoint an inspector to act as an authority to accomplish certain duties after publishing in the official Gazette. The inspector shall enter into the workplace, examine the documents and record, inspect the nature of work, obtain the details of the women employees etc. The inspectors are considered to be public servants within the meaning under Indian Penal Code. The inspector has the power to order the employer to grant the maternity benefit to a woman if such benefit is withheld by the employer. Any person aggrieved by the order of the inspector shall file an appeal to the authority prescribed under the Act. The employer is duty bound to retain a register which includes the details of employees working in the establishment. The contravention of the Act shall be penalized with imprisonment and fine as specified in the enactment.
The Central Government shall give directions to the concerned State Governments to execute the provisions of the Act. The appropriate Government shall frame rules to comply with the legislation and implement its provisions. The Maternity Benefits Act was amended several times to make it more beneficial to women workers. In exercise of the powers conferred by the Act, the appropriate Government has formulated The Maternity Benefit (Mines and Circus) Rules in 1963.