In a significant ruling, the High Court of Himachal Pradesh has held that the benefit of maternity leaves is available to contractual employees also, with all consequential benefits, including continuity in service.
Allowing the petition of a Medical Officer employed at an ECHS clinic on contractual basis, Justice Sureshwar Thakur held,
"Even though, she was engaged on a contractual basis, yet, denial, of, benefit of maternity leave to her, would, tantamount, to infringement, being visited, vis-àvis, the salutary purpose, behind Article 21, of, the Constitution of India."
Reliance was placed on a decision of the Apex Court in Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Female Workers & Anr., 2000 (3) (SCC) 224, which casts an "explicit mandate" vis-à-vis, the entitlement of maternity leave to women employees who are engaged on daily wages, or on casual basis.
"Women who constitute almost half of the segment of our society have to be honoured and treated with dignity at places where they work to earn their livelihood. Whatever be the nature of their duties, their avocation and the place where they work; they must be provided all the facilities to which they are entitled.
…the benefits under the Act shall be provided to the women (muster roll) employees of the Corporation who have been working with them on daily wages," the court had held therein.
The High Court has observed that if a woman is "coerced" to render her duties of employment, even during the phase wherein she is carrying a child in her womb, she may not be fully facilitated to carry out the calling(s) of her avocation.
It held that insistence upon availing services of a pregnant woman would tantamount to the foetus being concomitantly "ill-affected by the toll of work" exacted from its mother and on the other hand, deeming her absent from work without pay would lead to foetus' "under nourishment arising from no wages being paid to its mother".
On this note the bench remarked,
"Necessarily, the toll, and the telling effect, upon the health, of, the foetus, would again, spotlight, a grave infraction being visited, qua the constitutionally guaranteed, right to life, both to the mother, and, in the foetus. In the afore scenario, for safeguarding the mandate, of, Article 21, of, the Constitution of India, the entitlement to maternity leave, cannot be denied to the writ petitioner, even though, she was engaged on a contractual basis."
Notably, the High Court of Kerala has held in two decisions - Rasitha C H v State of Kerala and Rakhi P V v State of Kerala - that contractual employees are also entitled to benefits under the Maternity Benefit Act.
Other High Court judgments on the similar point, allowing relief to contractual/ temporary employees include:
Case Title: Dr. Mandeep Kaur v. Union of India & Ors.
Case No.: CWP No. 1400/2018
Quorum: Justice Sureshwar Thakur
Appearance: Advocate B. Nandan Vashishta (for Petitioner); Senior Panel counsel Lokender Pal Thakur (for Respondent)
Click Here To Download Judgment