Are Contractual Employees Covered Under Maternity Benefits Act? Delhi HC To Decide
The Delhi High Court is faced with a question whether the Maternity Benefit Act of 2017 carves out an exception for women hired on contractual basis to provide consultancy services.
The question is posed in a petition moved by National Commission for Women on behalf of a woman who was denied maternity benefits by the National Highways Authority of India on the ground that her engagement with the Authority did not amount to an 'employer-employee' relationship so as to attract the Maternity Benefits Act.
Defending its stance, NHAI submitted that the aggrieved woman was hired on a contractual basis as a consultant to render professional services. If her contract with the authority is perused, her position will not appear as that of a regular employee of the authority.
Therefore, she cannot be treated at par with the regular employees when it comes to employment benefits such as Maternity Benefit Act.
Arguing for the woman, the counsel appearing on behalf of the National Commission for Women argued that the said woman had regular working hours, was made to use the biometric system just like other employees, and was also mandated to follow the office regulations.
Therefore, this conduct goes to show that NHAI had intended to have an employer-employee relationship with the woman.
NCW also argued that the said woman was hired under a policy of NHAI which had reflected the need of hiring more professionals on contractual basis as the authority could not sustain to fill up all the vacancies.
In support of her contention, NCW also cited section 3(d) of the Maternity Benefit Act which defines 'employer' as:
- in relation to an establishment which is under the control of the Government, a person or authority appointed by the Government for the supervision and control of employees or where no person or authority is so appointed, the head of the department;
- in relation to an establishment which is under any local authority, the person appointed by such authority for the supervision and control of employees or where no person is so appointed, the chief executive officer of the local authority;
- in any other case, the person who are the authority which has the ultimate control over the affairs of the establishment and where the said affairs are entrusted to any other person whether called a manager, managing director, managing agent, or by any other name, such person;
The Single Bench of Justice Navin Chawla recognised the need of ruling upon the said question of law as the same has a significant consequence on the affirmative action jurisprudence for women.
In pursuance of the same, notice was also issued to NHAI to file its reply.
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.