9 questions to ask before applying for maternity leave

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Indian maternity leave policies need to be revisited by lawmakers to accommodate modern-day requirements. Here's what you should ask your HR before applying

Two weeks ago, a strange news hit the stands. A doctor in Shillong lost her job for being pregnant! Rachael RA Rapsang, a dental officer at a Church-run hospital, was allegedly terminated after she applied for a nine-month maternity leave. However, the hospital authorities claimed that her contract did not have any provision for it.

Nevertheless, Rapsang’s story is one that resonates with several women in India, who are forced to quit their jobs because of a non-compliant maternity leave system in the country.

Shruti Kakkar's (name changed) story is one such case. The 29-year-old worked with a leading Mumbai-based telecommunication company till last April. However, she had to quit her job to take care of her now 11-month-old daughter. According to her, it was a forced decision. “I was only offered a three-month leave. However, due to mastisis, I was advised two more months of bed rest. Because of this, I was asked to leave," says Kakkar.

Another new mum Ramya Nair, a Delhi-based media professional, shares a similar story. “I quit my job when I conceived because I had preeclampsia and I knew that my organisation will not wait for me to deliver and come back after almost a year,” she says.

Maternity leave policies in India

Although the ideal leave compensation is very debatable, six months is what most organisations are offering to the newbie mothers. However, women in India are still subjected to the maternity laws which date back to the 1961s—the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 and Maternity Benefit Amendment Act, 2008, which was ammended in 2007. The sad part is that both laws only allow 12 weeks of maternity leave and do not take into account the cases related to difficult pregnancies.

“Maternity leave policies in India are archaic in nature and need to be revisited according to the modern connotations," says Fazaa Shroff-Garg, author and an eminent Mumbai-based lawyer, adding, "The modern-day parents live in a nuclear family and, therefore, need to time their leaves to take care of the newborn."

According to Shroff-Garg, our system is yet to rationalise maternity benefits. "It's important to understand that such leaves should be judged on the basis of situational needs," she says.

Maternity leave policies across leading Indian corporates

Nevertheless, few corporates are waking up to the plight that the new parents, especially mothers face after childbirth. For instance, the e-commerce major Flipkart recently extended their current statutory maternity leave policy to 24-weeks in addition to four months of flexi-working hours with full pay. Also, if required the mothers can go on a year break without pay.

And many companies are following suit. The traditional brick-and-mortar companies such as Accenture and Vodafone have announced enhanced maternity benefits with extended leaves. Companies like HCL Technologies, Godrej and Hindustan Unilever are offering 180 days (over 24 weeks) of maternity leave benefits to all their employees.

The bigger problem, however, according to Shroff-Garg is that organisations fail to acknowledge difficult pregnancies and the post-pregnancy problems that crop up. “The best example of adapting to change has been demonstrated by the airline industry. It no longer focuses on employing single women and have opened gates to women who want to return to work after a sabbatical due to childbirth,” she adds.

What you need to ask the HR before applying for maternity leave?

Experts suggest that before you plan to start a family, you must know your rights. Apart from the government-backed maternity leave policies, pop up some important questions about its durations, flexibility and insurance, if any.

So if you are planning to become a mother soon, this is a list you need your approach your HR with before applying for maternity leave:

  • What is the duration of the paid maternity leave?
  • When can I request for my maternity leave?
  • Will I still have the same job profile when I return?
  • Can my boss deny my maternity leave?
  • If I am denied a maternity leave, can I contest it legally?
  • What medical benefits do I get?
  • Can I apply for extension if need be?
  • In case of extension, can the leaves be adjusted against the regular leaves?
  • Do I get to work from home if I need an extension?

“What is more important than a long maternity leave is to provide a supportive ecosystem like flexitime, crèche at workplace and an understanding and affectionate peer system. Such initiatives are readily welcomed by working mothers," says Sarika Bhattacharyya, co-founder and director, Biz Divas, Delhi. We agree.

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