The Karnataka High Court has held that ‘Work from Home’ can be sought under Section-5 (5) of Maternity Benefit Act depending on the nature of the work. The court had earlier reiterated that maternity benefits such as work from home, 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.
“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. 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 that 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,” said a single judge bench of Justice R Devdas while refusing the said benefit to a Senior Executive Engineer at STARC.
The petitioner said that she has been on maternity leave from 19.08.2020 to 14.02.2021 and availed personal leave from 15.02.2021 to 26.04.2021.
She was allowed to work from home during lockdown period, along with other employees. However, she didn’t join office after her leave was exhausted. The company said that the overstay without sanction of leave would be treated as unauthorised absence. Her company warned to join otherwise disciplinary action would be taken against her and she will face deduction in salary.
The counsel for the petitioner argued that it is the duty of the respondent-organisation to provide child care leave or allow the petitioner to work from home, until the government declared that there is no need for its employees to work from home.
“However, in respect of Child Care Leave, in a meeting of the 14th STARC Employees Meet held on 31.03.2018, the fourth respondent has considered the request made by its employees, especially in respect of female employees who sought additional benefits in the form of various policies like child care leave, flexible timings etc; considering the fact that work from home may not be possible at few instances, parenting issues inherited due to lack of such policies should be taken seriously”.
“It was decided that providing crèche and Day Care facilities as per Maternity Benefit Act, 2017, was an option. However, it was specifically decided that creation of crèche and Day Care facility was not advisable within the premises due to sensitive and risk involved processes, usage of chemicals and toxic gases. Nevertheless, it was also decided that if some of the employees are interested, then the matter can be taken up with The Centre For Artificial Intelligence And Robotics for availing Crèche facilities.”
However, the court noted that all employees of STARC, just like the employees of the Government of India are eligible for work from home facility but the said case is not the same as the nature of the work is sensitive and the work cannot be divulged to the public. Therefore, the work assigned to the petitioner cannot be carried on from home.