IT company fires pregnant employee: Can companies penalize women during pregnancy?
Despite the Maternity Benefits Act, pregnant women often get a raw deal in the corporate world.
As the ongoing layoffs at IT giant Verizon continue to spark anger, a case of a particularly harsh termination has come to light.
A woman, in the third month of her pregnancy, was laid off by Verizon in Hyderabad, despite her pleas about how it would affect her financially.
Kavitha*, a software tester with Verizon was asked to resign by the company’s HR and Delivery Head in a secluded meeting room, reported Ajay Moses for The New Indian Express. The HR personnel and Delivery Head, both men, refused to take into consideration the circumstances of Kavitha’s pregnancy, she alleged.
They also went on to suggest that the insurance policy would cover her financial requirements. And even when Kavitha broke down, it allegedly had no effect on the panel. “For namesake they asked If I needed a doctor,” Kavitha told TNIE.
She has now approached the Labour Commission against the termination of her employment at Verizon.
Apart from Kavitha, four other employees have also filed a writ petition with Telangana State Labour, Employment, Training and Factories department, opposing Verizon’s ‘illegal layoffs’.
So far, over 900 employees have been laid off by Verizon. IT welfare groups like Union of IT and ITES Employees (UNITE) have called the layoffs "illegal retrenchment" wherein hundreds of employees have been forced to resign in an 'inhumane' manner.
In light of these allegations, Chennai Deputy Labour Commissioner met representatives of the Verizon along with members of UNITE on Friday.
Not the first case of a pregnant woman being laid off
This is not the first time that a case of a pregnant woman being laid off by an IT company has come to light.
In 2014, when Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) was conducting a mass layoff, a pregnant employee, Sasi Rekha, was also asked to leave.
The pregnant woman moved to the Madras High Court, saying that she was a ‘workman’ as defined under the Industrial Disputes Act 1947. She stated that TCS could not terminate her employment without following the due process as outlined in the Act. She had been given her notice on December 22, 2014 and her last day was to be on January 21, 2015.
In January 2015, the Madras HC, through an interim injunction, restrained TCS from relieving Sasi Rekha for a period of four weeks. While the next hearing in the matter was to take place in February, TCS withdrew the termination order issued to Sasi Rekha before that.
The company argued that she had not brought her pregnancy to their knowledge during the exit process. And the company, while disputing her claim that employees are ‘workmen’ under the Industrial Disputes Act, revoked her termination in line with the policy of not firing employees during their pregnancy.
Sasi Rekha’s counsel also told the media that since she was pregnant, her employment was protected under Section 12 of the Maternity Benefits Act.
The Maternity Benefits Act
The aforementioned Section 12 of the Act entails the following things: an employee who is absent from work under provisions of the Act cannot be dismissed on account of that absence; if a woman is discharged during her pregnancy, she is still entitled to maternity benefit or medical bonus referred to Section 8 of the Act, unless the dismissal is for gross misconduct.
Access the full Act here.
However, it is known that despite the Act being in place, many pregnant women get a raw deal. This report by Sharmistha Choudhury in The Hindu highlights how women in the organised sector are penalized time and again for their pregnancies.
And while many of these women have gone to court and won, the fact that they have had to turn to the justice system even as their employers blatantly violate a law is telling of how pregnant women are considered liabilities in the workforce.
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