The Karnataka High Court recently held that work from home benefit can be granted to a woman employee after exhausting maternity leave only if the nature of the work assigned to the employee makes it possible to do her official job from home.
The court held the same while denying relief of childcare leave to a woman employee at the Semiconductor Technology and Applied Research Centre (STARC), a unit under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
The court was hearing a case where the petitioner had been working in the said position as a Senior Executive Engineer at the said centre for eight years, reported Bar and Bench.
In August 2020, the petitioner delivered a baby girl and availed of maternity leave until February after which she used personal leave until April 2021. She contended that during the second wave of the Covid pandemic, she along with other employees were given the benefit to work from home.
She then approached the court, seeking sanction for childcare leave, regularisation of her salary and release of her withheld salary.
“Though reference is made to Section 5(5) of the (Maternity Benefits Act), 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…
The employees working with the fourth respondent-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 defense fields and the research work will not be divulged to the public. This itself would prove that the nature of the work assigned to the petitioner cannot be carried on from home,” the reported quoted the court as saying.
The court, however, noted that creche facilities would be made available for the employee in the adjacent premises, adding that the respondent-organisation should consider her representation for regularisation with sympathy.
The organisation said that when the petitioner did not join duty after her sanctioned leave exhausted, a communication was sent to her which stated that she was staying away from work without leave, and the same would be treated as an unauthorised absence.
The organisation said the it was also mentioned that she would not be entitled to a salary for that period and was informed that disciplinary action would be initiated.
The petitioner responded by highlighting the benefits required to be provided under the Maternity Benefits Act, and two official memoranda issued by the Ministry of Personnel, which provides for grant of childcare leave to women employees with children below the age of 18.
The petitioner then approached the Central Administrative Tribunal in Bengaluru seeking similar relief. STARC sent her another communication noting that her application had been withdrawn, and asked her to join her duties immediately and regularise the absence from May 2021, the report said.