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'Work From Home' Under Maternity Benefit Act Can Be Availed Only If Nature Of Work Permits So: Karnataka High Court Denies Relief To Woman

Mustafa Plumber
22 March 2022 9:45 AM GMT
Work From Home Under Maternity Benefit Act Can Be Availed Only If Nature Of Work Permits So: Karnataka High Court Denies Relief To Woman
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The Karnataka High Court has reiterated that maternity benefits such as allowing an employee to work from home, under section 5 (5) of the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017, could be given only in case where the nature of work assigned to the women is such that it is possible for her to work from home. A single judge bench of Justice R Devdas while refusing relief to an...

The Karnataka High Court has reiterated that maternity benefits such as allowing an employee to work from home, under section 5 (5) of the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017, could be given only in case where the nature of work assigned to the women is such that it is possible for her to work from home.

A single judge bench of Justice R Devdas while refusing relief to an employee working with Semi Conductor Technology and Applied Research Centre, ('STARC'), said,

"Though reference is made to Section 5(5) of the Act, 1961, it is evident from the said provision that maternity benefits such as work from home after availing the maternity benefit could be given only in case where the nature of work assigned to the women is such that it is possible for her to work from home."

Further it said,

"In this regard, a specific decision is taken by the Organisation in its meeting held along with its employees on 31.03.2018, that the premises of the Organisation is sensitive and involved with risk due to usage of chemicals and toxic gases. The employees working with the Organisation are involved in research work which is both sensitive as well as complicated. Sensitive, in the nature of the work done, in the sense that the research is for the benefit of the Government of India which uses the facility in the defence fields and the research work will not be divulged to the public. This itself would prove that the nature of work assigned to the petitioner cannot be carried on from home."

It added, "The respondents are also on record, in their statement of objections, that even during the period of lockdown, the top officials from the cadre of Deputy managers have been functioning from the premises itself."

Case background:

The Petitioner, working as a Senior Executive Engineer with the organisation, had approached the Court challenging two communications issued by the Respondent-organisation and sought a direction to the respondent to consider her representations for sanction of Child Care Leave with retrospective effect and to regularise the petitioner's salary and to release the salary withheld from 24.05.2021. By these communications the petitioner was called upon to join duties immediately and regularise the absence from 24.05.2021.

Petitioners arguments:

It was contended that the provisions of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 is applicable to the petitioner who is an employee of the respondent-Organisation which is a fully funded organisation controlled by the Government of India.

Further, reliance was placed on Section 5(5) of the Act 1961, to contend that the petitioner should be allowed to carry on her work from home after availing the maternity benefit for the period as provided under the Act.

Moreover, notifications have been issued by the Central Government, directing all the Public Sector Undertakings, which include the respondent- Organisation, to ensure that as far as possible, provisions should be made to lactating mothers to work from home, in view of the prevalence of COVID- 19 pandemic. Thus it is the duty of the respondent-Organisation to provide for Child Care Leave and to permit the petitioner to work from home, until it is declared by the Central Government/State Government that there is no need for its employees to work from home.

Respondents opposed the plea:

It was submitted that the benefit of the Maternity Benefit Act 1961, as applicable to the respondent-Organisation has been granted to the petitioner. However, in respect of Child Care Leave, in a meeting of the 14th STARC Employees Meet held on 31.03.2018, it was decided that providing crèche and Day Care facilities as per Maternity Benefit Act, 2017, was an option.

It was also said that the respondent-Organisation cannot be equated to the Government of India and the facilities available to the Central Government employees, be it in the nature of providing maternity leave, Child Care Leave and other facilities cannot be automatically adopted to the respondent-Organisation.

Court findings:

The court found that the petitioner has not been able to point out to any specific provision of law or rules that would mandate the fourth respondent Organisation, to grant child care leave facility as is available to the Central Government employees.

As regards the impugned communications issued by the Organisation to the petitioner, wherein she is warned about unauthorised absence and the consequence of willful disobedience, the Court said that the respondent-Organization is required to have a sympathetic view towards the petitioner, especially keeping in view serious waves of COVID-19 pandemic,.

Following which it granted liberty to the petitioner to make fresh representations regarding the unauthorised absence and seek regularisation of the same. The court said, "As and when such representations are given by the petitioner, after she joins duty, the Organisation shall consider such representations sympathetically and pass orders in the light of the observations made hereinabove."

Case Title: Mrs. Prachi Sen v. Ministry Of Defence

Case No: WRIT PETITION NO.22979 OF 2021

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Kar) 85

Date of Order: 3 MARCH, 2022

Appearance: Advocate BEENA P.K for petitioner; Advocate H. JAYAKARA SHETTY for respondents

Click Here To Read/Download Order

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