SBI recently went into controversy following its new rule that women over three months pregnant are temporarily ‘unfit’ to be hired. Although they withdrew this new rule and went to the status quo after widespread outrage over the rule, the original status quo of the biggest public sector bank of India is not that beneficial to pregnant women either.
The original rule of SBI only allows women up to six months pregnant to be hired as new employees. Those who are past six months of pregnancy would still be considered as ‘temporarily unfit’. And those who are under six months of pregnancy should submit a letter from a gynaecologist stating that the employment in the bank would not adversely affect the pregnancy in any way and would not cause a miscarriage.
Before this inappropriate and outrageous rule, SBI had a history of being even more prejudiced against pregnant women in its recruitment process. Until 2009 SBI used to insist that women candidates undergo a medical examination to prove that they are not pregnant at the time of recruitment, give details of their menstrual cycle and produce an undertaking that they are not having any diseases related to uterus or breast. This rule was recalled in 2009 with the efforts of many and following a letter to the Prime Minister from the then Chief Minister of Kerala, V.S. Achuthanandan.
This prejudice against pregnant women may be a strategy to avoid giving the women the rightful maternity benefits they deserve according to the Code of Social Security, 2020. According to this, a woman is entitled to 26 weeks of paid maternity leave, nursing breaks, permission to visit a creche etc. The maternity leave for a central government employee is of 2 years that she can take in any time during the growing up phase of her children. However, as employers try to avoid these maternity benefits, they avoid employing pregnant women.
These laws that prevent a pregnant woman from getting employed or keeping her employment is a clear violation of human rights. Pregnancy should not be a criterion in the recruitment of an employee. SBI won’t surely be the only employer who has this prejudice. Many pregnant women are facing this discrimination all around the world.
There have been reports that women in South Korea often find their employment at risk after their employer finds out that they are pregnant. According to a government survey, almost half of the Japanese women who work on short-term contracts suffer harassment after becoming pregnant or giving birth.
It is unlawful for an employer to discharge or dismiss a pregnant worker during pregnancy or on account of absence due to pregnancy, delivery or any post-natal illness. They are not allowed to give notice of discharge or dismissal, or to vary to her disadvantage any of the conditions of her service.
But we are not living in such a bad world. There are many employers in the public and private sector who are graceful about their employee’s pregnancy and are more than willing to give them the rightful maternity benefits they deserve. However, as long as the laws that discriminate against pregnant women exist we cannot have a bias-free working environment.
- Poorna Krishnan