Delhi High Court: In a claim of maternity benefit by a contractual employee, the Division Bench of Rajiv Shakdher and Talwant Singh, JJ., expressed that, The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 Act is a social legislation that should be worked in a manner that progresses not only the best interest of the women-employee but also of the child, both at the pre-natal and post-natal stage.

Whether an ad hoc employee is entitled to maternity benefit for a period that spills beyond the tenure of the contract?

Respondent was offered an ad hoc basis as Senior Resident and on the basis of the said offer, respondent joined the petitioner-hospital, her contract was renewed quite a few times.

Later, respondent applied for emergency maternity leave as her pregnancy had become complicated and via the said communication, the petitioner averred that she was suffering from antepartum haemorrhage and was advised bed rest by her gynaecologist. The apprehension expressed in this letter was that the respondent may be required to undergo an emergent caesarean section procedure, to facilitate childbirth.

Petitioner-hospital instead of granting maternity leave, terminated the services of the petitioner.

Tribunal directed the petitioner-hospital to extend maternity benefits to the respondents and issue a certificate to the applicant indicating the length of service rendered by her in the hospital. The said decision was taken when the respondent approached the tribunal second time.

Hence, the petitioner-hospital on being aggrieved with the above, approached this, Court.

Analysis, Law and Decision

High Court stated that the petitioner-hospital’s stance that the maternity leave benefit cannot extend beyond the period when the contractual period of an ad hoc employee comes to an end is an aspect that is required to be examined by the Court.

The provisions of 1961 Act seek to invest a woman with a statutory right to make maternity leave and seek payment for the period that she is absent from duty on account of her pregnancy, albeit in accordance with the provisions of the 1961 Act.

The provisions of Maternity Act do not differentiate between a permanent employee and a contractual employee, or even a daily wage (muster roll) worker. The said position was made clear in Supreme Court’s decision of Municipal Corpn. Delhi v. Female Workers (Muster Roll), (2000) 3 SCC 224.

The 1961 Act does not tie in the grant of maternity benefit to the tenure of the woman employee.

 Limiting factors for the grant of maternity benefits:

(i) First, the woman-employee should have worked in an establishment of her employer for a minimum period of 80 days in 12 months immediately preceding the date of her expected delivery.

(ii) Second, the maximum period for which she can avail maternity leave benefit cannot exceed 26 weeks, of which, not more than 8 weeks shall precede the date of her expected delivery.

Adding to the above, it was stated that for a woman employee who has two or more surviving children, although the maximum period of which she can claim maternity benefit is 12 weeks, the period preceding the date of expected delivery cannot be more than 6 weeks.

“…as long as conception occurs before the tenure of the contract executed between a woman-employee and her employer expires, she should be entitled to, in our opinion, maternity benefits as provided under the 1961 Act.”

While upholding the decision of the Tribunal, Court remarked that, without financial wherewithal, the interest of women-employee and her child is likely to be severely impacted.[Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital Govt. of NCT of Delhi v. Dr Krati Mehrotra, 2022 SCC OnLine Del 742, decided on 11-3-2022]

Advocates before the Court:

For the Petitioners:

Ms Mini Pushkarna, Ms. Khushboo Nahar and Ms Latika Malhotra, Advs.

For the Respondent:

Ms Mansi Bajaj, Ms Nidhi Tyagi and Mr Saksham Mishra, Advs.

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