Most popular organisation structures in our economy are that of shops and establishments. The law governing the working and conditions of the same is the Shops and Establishments Act of various states.
Compliances under this law are simpler compared to the Factories Act, and also the Building and Other Construction Workers Act, which governs the working of building and construction sector. Due to this, many establishments try getting covered under the Shops and Establishment Act by concealing and camouflaging their activities which otherwise would come under factory or construction sector.
The Shops and Establishments Act in different states takes care of the working hours, holidays, leave, overtime, opening and closing hours, festivals, closed days, time and conditions of payment of wages, double employment and other such conditions. In many states, it also provides for detailed clauses relating to termination. The basic aim of this Act is to make work systematic for both the employee and the employer.
Over the years, there have been framing of various policies to suit the changing economy. Registrations have become online, some states have uniformly given exemption and some require applying for exemption from opening and closing hours subject to certain conditions. Today, in many states, opening for 365 days and 24 hours is also legal. There are special exemptions available for sectors like IT companies, BPOs, media, entertainment, etc.
The Act also takes care of issues relating to double employment. Neither the employee on his own will nor the employer can make the employee work in excess of the hours provided under the Acts for one or more establishment.
With increasing number of women employees, exemptions have also been made available for their late working hours subject to safe working conditions, transportation, security, etc. Some states also have policies such as providing self-defence training to women, properly regulated cabs and drivers, ensuring addressing of complaints relating to sexual harassment etc. though now there is a special Act for it—the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
Number of leaves, their distribution into annual, sick, casual, earned, privilege, etc. is also given in the Acts. Provisions are made for carrying them forward up to certain limits and their encashment. Holidays such as national, gazetted and closed are also provided for. For making an employee work on holidays, some of the states provide conditions such as double the payment of wages for that particular day and also a compensatory off.
Records of wages, attendance, overtime, leave, etc. are to be maintained as given in the Acts. Penalties for non-compliance of provisions such as fine, prosecution are also provided for.
Though the Acts are well defined, with the growing competition and changing economy, however, it is difficult for companies to cope with many provisions, especially those relating to limited working hours. Issues also arise when companies have only five working days or have flexible ‘work from home’ structure. With different states having somewhat different provisions, challenge is also faced while making uniform policies relating to leave, etc.
It is difficult to cater to the changing economy with old laws. Though now there are many policies relating to flexible opening and closing hours, and women working late, a review of the law, especially provisions relating to maintenance of cumbersome records, leaves, holidays, working hours/overtime in consonance with today’s circumstances is much needed.