When Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s ex-CEO, announced earlier this year that he would take time off to welcome his second child into the family, it brought the subject of paternity leave in India once again under the spotlight.
Though most Indian companies, private or government, acknowledge the mother’s need to be with the child and vice-versa and allow maternity leaves, there’s no uniform leave policy for new fathers. Unlike the Maternity Benefits Act 1961, there’s no act governing paternity benefits or leaves. However, if you are a male central government employee, you can be considered somewhat lucky, as you are entitled to get a 15-day paid leave to care for your family’s newest member.
But it’s time to recognise that male employees anywhere need this leave to support their wives and take over the childcare duties when the sleep-deprived mother needs a shut-eye or has to handle some professional responsibilities. And once it’s recognised, a paternity benefit bill should be drafted and implemented along the lines of the Maternity Benefit Act.
After all, it isn’t an exaggeration to say that you need a village to raise a child. In modern times, you may not get an entire village or community to share your childcare duties but Indian families and friends do chip in from time to time to help the new parents with their duties and perhaps even give them a little breather.
What is Paternity Leave in India and Why is it Important?
Paternity leave in India refers to the leave fathers become eligible for, in order to bond with their new family member. The term “father” here refers to the legal parent of the child who’s born or newly adopted.
India’s patriarchal society regarded childbearing and rearing as the mother’s primary job. Not much importance or notice was given to the father’s role, who too needs to be physically and emotionally available for the mother and child. Thankfully, times are changing and new parents are aware of their right to get paid paternity leaves.
Some are even asking their employers for such paid leaves in case the same isn’t on offer already. Yet, Indian companies, especially those in the private domain, are still far from recognizing this as an important matter to debate and decide upon.
In 1999, India’s Central Government issued a notification under Central Civil Services (Leave) Rule 551 (A), thus making provisions for a male Central Government employee’s paternity leave (including leave for an apprentice and probationer employed by the Central Government) with less than two existing children for 15 days. This paternity leave aimed to help the man take care of his wife and newborn child.
The rule laid down that this paternity leave could be taken 15 days before or within 6 months from the date of delivery of the little one. Such leave shall be considered to have lapsed if the individual fails to avail it within the specified period as mentioned above.
It was stated that the father availing the paternity leave shall be paid an amount equal to his last-drawn salary immediately prior to going on leave. The same rule applies in case a couple (or a man) adopts a child and the father seeks to take paternity leave.
Though government employees in India can enjoy sanctioned paternity leave and even get paternity pay, it’s unfortunate that the private sector has no such binding law. In the absence of any obligatory rules and regulations, paternity leave in such organisations, companies, and other work environments are open to interpretation by the concerned employers.
Does it mean there’s no hope for male employees in India’s private organisations and companies, and seeking to take paternity leave? No, we say!
In 2009, the New Delhi High Court passed a judgement that slowed paternity leave in private schools. This helped Chandramohan Jain, a private school teacher, get his deducted salary back, as the court recognised his leave as paternity leave, despite there being no binding legislation for private organisations.
Paternity Leave in India’s Private Companies and Organisations
In the absence of any formal policy for employees in this sector, it could seem like doom and gloom for new fathers. But take heart as everything isn’t that disappointing. Several new-age companies, along with their older and more established counterparts, have set out progressive policies related to paternity leave. This reflects the cultural shift, which has become quite noticeable in workplaces over the last few years.
Some companies like Flipkart, Meesho, Razorpay, Twilio, and Okcredit are leading from the front when it comes to giving paternal leave to new fathers. Sometimes, the time off on offer could be as much as 30 weeks. And the good news? There are indications of this shift increasingly gaining ground across various sectors.
Several tech companies have always been the frontrunners in the matter by giving a decent period of leave to new fathers. As the competition to hire and retain the best tech talent grows fiercer, companies are increasingly focusing on perks and benefits, including paternity leave, to make the workplace conducive to new-age employees. For example, the Indian arm of Diageo, a global player in the domain of alcoholic beverages, introduced a 26-week parental leave for its employees, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender.
What Do Indian Fathers Need?
India needs to have a statutory shared parental leave policy, something along the lines Sweden, which would be inclusive and not restricted just to the biological parents. Some other countries like Denmark and Norway too have extremely progressive parental leave policies that encourage new fathers and mothers alike to share the leave. Eligible parents in the United Kingdom can share a maximum of 50 weeks of leave between them.
Indian policymakers and employers can take inspiration from these countries to frame their own laws and rules. But why do we need a statutory way? Because unless it’s backed by the law and preferably has some penalties or fines associated with it for those who don’t conform, employers won’t really have any obligation to carry it out.
Three decades ago, a government employee, who tried to take paternity leave by mocked by colleagues, who asked what he needed the leave for, as it was his wife who would feed the child and take care of the little one.
Though things are slowly changing for the better, the outlook of many employers still hasn’t changed from what it was three decades ago. And unless that changes, fathers in India will continue to have a tough time at work, despite their wives enjoying the Maternity Benefits Act and even if statutory paternity leave is enforced.