Today was the Human Rights Day.
If you are moderately active on social media, particularly in the social awareness/justice feeds, you will be more or less familiar with what is considered as basic human rights as defined by United Nations. (Such as the right to life and liberty, right to work and education, etc.)
However how often do you actively exercise those rights? Especially if you are a working professional?
It’s easy to regard yourself as just another cog in the machine, a foot soldier in the army when you are an employee. Way too easy sadly. Many employees in the zeal to prove themselves, or lack of awareness, or fear of confrontation with the management don’t often exercise the rights they are entitled to. This results in countless stories of unfair termination, workplace harassment which can severely traumatize an employee and bring down their morale to rock-bottom.
Remember the only person who can best protect your rights is you. So get informed, be empowered.
Here is a comprehensive list of some important private employment rights as covered by Indian Labour Laws:
A concise and detailed Employee Agreement
Before your tenure with the new company starts, you have the right to know what you are getting into. The employee agreement will contain terms of employment like designation, working hours, what constitutes a dispute or conflict along with rights and duties of both employer and employees such as non-disclosure of confidential information/trade secrets, provident fund, etc. The terms and conditions should be put forward in clear writing to ensure that the employer and employee are on the same page from day one.
Basic Safety Rights
The Factories Act (Act No 63 of 1948) as amended by the Factories (Amendment) Act 1987 guarantees the basic right of health and safety to employees along with other rights like the right to clean work-office, drinking water facilities, ventilation, and lighting, washrooms, etc. If workplaces are hazardous like construction or mining sites then proper standards of safety have to be ensured.
Appropriate Working Hours and Overtime
As per the Factories Act, adult workers should work a maximum of 9 hours per day or 48 hours a week. According to the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, if an employee works for more than the stipulated office working hours, the employer is liable to pay him/her for every hour worked overtime.
A female worker can work from 6 am -7 pm. This can be relaxed up to 9:30 pm in special circumstances, however, it should be accompanied by overtime and transport facility.
Every employee should have a day off per week. If he/she is made to work on the off-day, payment shall be made at a rate not less than the overtime rate.
Right to Fair Remuneration
Article 39(d) of the Constitution guarantees equal pay for equal work. The laws under The Equal Remuneration Act, The Payment of Wages Act, make provisions for timely and fair compensation for every employee. If the employee has not received remuneration as per as Employee Agreement, they can approach the Labour Commission or file a civil suit for arrears in salary.
Last but not the least, a worker cannot be paid a salary at a rate below the minimum wage as stipulated by the Minimum Wages Act. Any wage below the amount guaranteed by this act is a violation of Article 23 of the Constitution and can be classified as forced labour.
Right to Provident Fund
The provident fund is a retirement and long-term savings scheme. Any organization with more than 20 employees has to register with the EPFO (Employees Provident Fund Organization of India) Both the employer, as well as the employee, have to contribute 12% of basic pay to the fund. If the employer does not pay his share or deducts the 12% from the worker’s wages he/she can be taken to the PF Appellate Tribunal.
A certain amount of money can be withdrawn for emergency expenses such as medical treatment, home loan repayment, immigration/education expenses, etc. An employee can withdraw a maximum of 3 times and if withdrawn before 5 years the amount becomes liable for taxation.
The employee has the right to opt-out of a PF scheme but it has to be done at the start of your career. Once you deposit money in PF you cannot back out.
The Payment of Gratuity Act 1972, ensures employees’ payment of gratuity for more than 5 years of service. This is a lump sum given by the employer in case of retirement, resignation, inability to work due to terminal illness or disability, superannuation, and death (in the last case the gratuity fund goes to the employee’s nominees). The amount of gratuity increases with increment and number of years of service.
If the organization catches the employee red-handed in some illegal conduct the employee loses the right to any gratuity.
Right to Leaves
You have the right to enjoy paid leaves on occasions such as public holidays, sick leaves, etc. For every 240 days of work, an employee is entitled to 12 days of leave. An adult worker may take an earned leave every 20 days whereas a young worker can enjoy a leave every 15 days or so.
Right to Maternity Leaves
Pregnant women are entitled to 26 weeks of leave (including 8 weeks of post-natal leaves) according to the 2017 amendment of the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961. In case of a complicated pregnancy, premature birth, etc. female employees are entitled to one month of paid leave.
Pregnant females cannot be dismissed from service on grounds of pregnancy. If dismissed they can still claim maternity benefits.
Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace (POSH)
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious issue for many women. India witnessed an alarming increase of sexual abuse at the workplace (54%) from 371 in 2014 to 570 in 2017 according to GOI (Ministry of Women & Child Development).
Women are guaranteed safety from sexual abuse at work by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Act 2013. This act defines the following activities as offences:
- Uncalled for physical contact
- Demand for sexual favours
- Making inappropriate jokes or comments
- Showing objectionable or lewd images or videos
The Indian Penal Code penalizes those accused of sexual harassment who can spend up to 3 years in jail.
If an organization has 10 or more employees, an Internal Complaints Committee has to be formed which will address cases of sexual harassment. This committee must include a senior woman as a member. Additionally, two employees with legal/social knowledge and interest in securing the safety of women and a person belonging to an NGO must be appointed as members as well.
If you have any doubts as to what rights you are entitled to then don’t hesitate to reach out to the HR manager. Try to have a clear view of the company policies and how far they uphold your rights as an employee before signing the dotted line.