At present Sri Lanka’s labour strength is nearly 8.5 million and women in employment is about 3.0 million. Women working in shops and offices are bound by Shop and Office Employees Act, which provides additional rights to women when compared with men. It is always better for the employees and employers to acquaint themselves with the rights of employees and obligations of employers, so that arising of disputes is minimised. Cordial relationship between employer and employees stimulates working standard and work satisfaction.
Listed below are some important facts:
Males or females under the age of 14 years should not be employed even as domestic servants. Females under 18 years should not be asked to work beyond nine hours a day (including lunch interval of one hour) and should not be asked to work before 6 a.m. and after 6 p.m.
Females above 18 years may be employed even up to 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. in the business of hotel or restaurant. They could be employed before 6 a.m. or after 8 p.m. in an office of airline as ground hostess or in a residential hotel as receptionist, ladies cloak room attendant.
Females (like men) should not refuse to work overtime for a reasonable period. What is ‘reasonable period’ is not defined properly and may vary according to the type of business. Generally it may be 12 hours per week (maximum).
Adequate seating arrangements should be provided. It may be behind the sales counter or other comfortable place.
Washroom facilities should be available but need not be within the premises. It should be less than 50 yards from the premises. Separate wash room facilities should be available for women. Lunch and tea rooms need not be separate.
Woman when entering or leaving premises could be subjected to checking (body or hand bags). It is better to include this clause in the letter of appointment. Body checking should be done in an enclosure. Females could demand that checking should be done by lady officers only.
Maternity leave of 84 days or 42 days should be granted. If the number of children at the time of delivery is two or more only 42 days are allowed. Otherwise 84 days is permitted. This period is exclusive of Statutory Holidays, Poya Holidays and Weekend Holidays (1-1/2 day per week) in addition to Privilege and Casual Leave. She is entitled to take leave of about 14 working days (maximum) before her confinement and the balance after the delivery. If her leave exceeds 14 working days she should be on no pay leave unless management permits her to take other leave (Privilege or Casual). It is at the sole direction of the Management.
Services of an employee cannot be terminated because of her pregnancy or sickness due to pregnancy. She must not be employed in a place (room, etc.) which may be injurious to her or her child. This period should not exceed three months.
A lady who expects to be confined must give notice to her employer the number of her children she has on that date. It is also important to advise the employer whether the child was born alive or not. This helps the employer to decide on her maternity leave entitlement.
Maternity leave of 82 or 42 days as the case may be is allowed only in case of a live child. (This is very important).
In the case of ‘still born’ child or the issue of ‘viable foetus’ it is restricted to 42 days only. ‘Viable foetus’ means that, at least 28 weeks of pregnancy was completed. If the doctor could not certify this fact then viable foetus should be at least 12 inches long or of 2lbs weight.
Maternity leave has to be granted even in respect of illegitimate children. A learned judge in India once commented ‘Motherhood and Dignity need to be considered separately’.
Medical leave of 21 days is not granted for shop and office employees at present. However employer could allow this by inserting in the letter of employment.
When an employer is reported sick (supported by medical certificate) leave should be granted on no pay for a reasonable period. Setting off against privilege or casual leave is at the discretion of the employer.
A female could be questioned in private during office hours (for fraud theft, etc.) she could demand that a lady officer to be present to look after her interest.
It seems that the Shop and Office Employees Act is outdated now. A suitable amended Act has to be considered in accordance with international standard.
S.R. Balachandra, BSc. FCA, FCMA