WFH beyond maternity leave to depend on nature of work: Karnataka HC

Work-from-home facility should be allowed to new mothers who have already availed maternity leave only if their work can actually be done safely from home, without compromising the employer/organisation in any way

Image Credit- Moheen Reeyad

After availing maternity leave, a woman employee may seek to be allowed to work from home and given permission to do so only if the nature of work is such that it can be carried out from home, without compromising data and information security.

This was the ruling of the Karnataka High Court recently in the case of a woman employee of Semiconductor Technology and Applied Research Centre (STARC), a unit under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

The said employee, a senior executive engineer with STARC, had spent eight years with the organisation. She had gone on maternity leave and delivered a baby girl in August 2020. While her maternity leave ended in February 2021, she used up her personal leave to stay home with the baby till April 2021. During the second wave of the pandemic, STARC staff had been allowed to work from home.

Since she had exhausted her leave and continued to stay at home, STARC considered her to be absent from work and had issued a notification to her saying she would not be paid for the said period.

The said engineer then approached the court to have her childcare leave sanctioned and for her salary to be regularised and the withheld salary to be released.

According to the Court, since the nature of work of the senior executive engineer was sensitive, and she was employed with an organisation that is involved in research work for the Government of India, and also related to the defence sector, she cannot be allowed to work from home. The Court observed that her work was not just sensitive but complicated and the information and data involved cannot be revealed to the public or compromised in any way. And that is why, it would be impossible for her to carry out her official work from home.

As per the Court, under Section 5(5) of the (Maternity Benefits Act), Act, 1961, work from home after exhaustion of maternity leave can be allowed only if the nature of work is such that it can be carried out from home.

However, the Court said that the petitioner would be provided crèche facilities nearby and asked her employer to sympathetically consider her request for regularisation.

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