Court orders maternity dues to employee: 'Becoming mother a natural phenomenon'

The Bombay High Court said becoming a mother was a natural phenomenon, and an employer has to be considerate and sympathetic towards women employees.
Court orders maternity dues to employee: 'Becoming mother a natural phenomenon'
Jaano Junction

Saying that becoming a mother was a natural phenomenon, the Bombay High Court quashed a 2014 communication issued by the Airport Authority of India (AAI) refusing maternity leave to a woman employee on the grounds that she already had two children. A bench of Justices AS Chandurkar and Jitendra Jain said an employer had to be considerate and sympathetic towards women staffers.

"To become a mother is the most natural phenomenon in the life of a woman. Whatever is needed to facilitate the birth of a child to a woman who is in service, the employer has to be considerate and sympathetic towards her and must realise the physical difficulties which a working woman would face in performing her duties at the workplace while carrying a baby in the womb or while rearing the child after birth," the court said.

The court's direction came while hearing petitions filed by the Airports Authority of India Workers Union and the concerned employee, Kanakavali Raja Armugam alias Kanakavali Shyam Sandal. The petitions challenged two communications issued by the AAI rejecting Kanakavali's application for maternity leave benefits on the birth of her third child.

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Court orders maternity dues to employee: 'Becoming mother a natural phenomenon'

Kanakavali was married to Raja Armugam, an employee of the AAI, and had one child. After his death, she was employed by AAI on compassionate grounds. However, she married again and had two children with her second husband.

Kanakavali said she had not availed maternity leave during the birth of her first child from her first marriage. She had sought maternity leave for the third child, which was rejected by the AAI on the grounds that she already had two surviving children. However, the court said Article 42 of the Constitution of India provides that the state shall make provision for securing just and human conditions of work and for maternity relief.

"The right to reproduction and child rearing has been recognised as an important facet of a person's right to privacy, dignity and bodily integrity under Article 21. Article 42 enjoins the state to make provisions for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief," the bench said.

The bench noted that as per AAI's own maternity leave rules, a woman employee could get benefits twice in her service period.

The court said the benefits of maternity leave and the conditions imposed were drafted keeping in mind the normal circumstances, where a woman employee marries only once and gives birth thereafter.

"The objective of this regulation is to give maternity leave benefits and not to curb the population. The condition of two surviving children is subjected so that the maximum times a female employee can benefit is only twice. This is to ensure that the organisation is not without the services of the employee for more than two times," the bench said.

The court said that since the petitioner had not availed the maternity leave benefit when she had her first child, she was eligible for the benefit when she had her third child. The court said the benefits of maternity leave and the conditions imposed were drafted keeping in mind the normal circumstances, where a woman employee marries only once and gives birth thereafter.

The bench said the regulations should be interpreted liberally. "The role of the court is to understand the purpose of law in society and to help the law achieve its purpose. When social reality changes, the law must change too," the bench said

Source: India Today

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