Article: Rewarding the vacant chair – The Maternity Benefit Amendment Bill

Employee Relations

Rewarding the vacant chair – The Maternity Benefit Amendment Bill

There are many arguments in favor of the recent judgment on Maternity Benefit Amendment Bill; but there are a few arguments to the contrary
Rewarding the vacant chair – The Maternity Benefit Amendment Bill

The recent decision on Maternity Benefit Amendment Bill 2016, in Rajya Sabha, provided for a maternity leave of 26 weeks instead of the current 12 weeks, and allows for 12 weeks leave for commissioning and adopting mothers while making it mandatory for establishments with 50 or more employees to provide crèche facility. Although it is a step hailed by many, businesses do have their fair share of concerns with it, some of which are:  

  • Why should the business pay for extended absences for employees who aren't contributing?

  • How does the business turn around pre-committed client deliverables with reduced employee size?

  • Wouldn’t it set the ground for “leaking talent pipeline”? Women talent is in scarcity and this can potentially pose the risk of women not returning!

  • Additional load of reworking the policy, finding a crèche in the vicinity and more.

  • Does it mean the business will have to be mindful in the hiring strategy and should focus more on hiring men?

  • To say the least, let me be benevolent – Isn’t it unfair for my male employees? What about paternity leave? Would that also increase in future?

    In a nutshell, why do we reward the vacant chair?

Competitive edge, customer satisfaction, net promoter score are the usual messages we hear every day. The business ecosystem has become so competitive, that only profitability matters – and of course for the right reasons; someone has to pay for the bills! That said, while we understand our employees, who we refer to as “Talent”, where is that border to truly claim the employee first proposition. Lung screeching claims on how “Talent” is critical is a passé or does it really means something?

Why should the business pay for extended absences for employees who aren't contributing?

Over the years, businesses have treated talent as incumbents, who fulfill certain duties to get a salary; businesses have also established the story of employee engagement, diversity, and equality and now – it is in the dichotomy of staying true to diversity at workplace promises and the thin operating margin, that the Maternity Benefit Act has put the company into a labor pain.

Their exists historical evidences that countries like Norway, Austria and Czech did extend the maternity policies, however, my limited research ability did not support me in finding the associated benefits. Most economists do write of the economic loss for the country and that such an extended leave has no significant effect or benefit to the economy or workplace continuity than a leave lesser than 20 weeks. In Germany, which offered a generous maternity leave, evidence showed that it failed to keep women in the workforce. In fact, long leaves correlate with women leaving the workforce eternally, and this also comes with associated implications like pay gap or bias when it came to other women in the workplace who choose not to have kids!

Long leaves correlate with women leaving the workforce eternally, and this also comes with associated implications like pay gaps or biases when it comes to other women in the workplace who choose not to have kids!

In this entire argument for mounting financial implications, we lose the very essence of compassion. A scroll through some of the fortune companies indicates that the Mission and Values statement enlist Compassion, in significance. Instead of the dictionary meanings of sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others, businesses showcase it as a means to be empathetic by understanding and being sensitive to the people we work with. We know of many businesses that ensure that employee salary continues for prolonged periods in case any employee succumbs to a critical illness. And given the state of India’s social culture, being compassionate on the aforesaid grounds may truly aid creating prolific talent pool — such talent pool which returns to workplace and contributes in making it congenial, by building higher-quality relationship & commitment to the workplace. It’s been established that diversity at workplace definitely positively contributes in the financial returns of the business.

Though it leaves with arguments on both sides to ponder; how do we budget for these additional 14 weeks? Where and how do we find the replacement talent? Why speculate that it may impact diversity at workplace decisions, would it? Is it not similar to reservations; in spite of equal opportunities? When businesses are pushing to minimize losses in this inflationary economy, how do businesses manage vacant chair costs? 

Only time will tell if rewarding the vacant chair has some rationale. 

The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not represent any policies or practices of the/any associated company or reflect the views of People Matters

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Topics: Employee Relations, Diversity, Compensation & Benefits

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