India’s Rajya Sabha (its Parliament) recently passed the Maternity Benefits Amendment Bill, 2016 (text of bill) which proposes to update and modernize the Maternity Benefits Act of 1961 (the “Act”).The Act applies to companies with 10 or more employees in India. Under this amendment, maternity benefits would be extended beyond birth mothers to those women who have children through surrogacy (defined under the Bill as “Commissioning Mother”) and adoption. In addition, the amendment would extend the available leave benefit from 12 weeks to 26 weeks for birth mothers who have fewer than 2 children (adoptive mothers, mothers through surrogacy, and mothers who are having their third child or beyond are only entitled to 12 weeks of leave.)
The amendment also aims to provide more support for breastfeeding mothers and guidance around allowing mothers to work from home.
Another major aspect of this amendment is a mandate that companies with 50 or more employees will need to provide an in-house daycare (called a crèche in India) or jointly source a daycare facility with other nearby businesses.
While we applaud the concept of making the workplace more accommodating for working mothers, the mandates in this amendment actually introduce an additional barrier for women in the workplace. All of the requirements of the Act and the amendment place additional requirements on companies without providing any government funding for those requirements. That means all paid time off, daycare, and technology to allow for remote work must be funded by companies. In addition, instead of updating the law to make it gender neutral, this amendment still affords parental leave benefits only to women. As a result of these good but poorly executed intentions, companies are economically disincentivized to hire women. Until leave benefits are mandated to be gender equal, such unfunded mandates, while they look good on paper, leave women at a disadvantage in the workplace.