Supporting employees through IVF

09 Mar 2022

According to the NHS, around 1 in 7 couples may have difficulty conceiving, and for a proportion of these IVF is recommended as a treatment for infertility. Embarking on IVF can be extremely challenging both physically and emotionally on women, partners and other family members. What legal obligations do employers have and what more are some employers offering?

Time off for appointments

Employers must ensure that a woman who requests time off to attend an IVF appointment is not treated less favourably that a man in a similar situation. However, there is no specific statutory right for time off to attend IVF appointments. Some employers treat the absence as holiday, others as unpaid leave. Consistency with other medical appointments should be adopted. There can often be side effects from fertility treatment which cause women to become unwell. Any time off should be taken and paid as with other forms of sickness absence.

Protection from discrimination

A woman undergoing IVF treatment will be protected from discrimination from the time her eggs are collected until the transfer of the fertilised embryo. Employers must therefore be mindful not to treat her less favourably during this time in order to avoid a potential sex discrimination claim.

Once the embryo is implanted in the uterus, the employee is pregnant. This starts a "protected period" for the purposes of pregnancy and maternity discrimination. 

From this point, the employee is protected from unfavourable treatment because of her pregnancy, including pregnancy related sickness. She would also be entitled to time off for antenatal care (time off which an employer cannot require the employee to make up).

It is sadly the case that IVF is not always successful. If the implantation fails, the protected period ends after a further two weeks have elapsed for the purposes of discrimination law.

It is also important to remember that other individuals who do not identify as a woman could undertake fertility treatment and be affected by the issues.  

What more is being done by employers?

Increasingly, employers are introducing procedures for supporting employees undertaking fertility treatment, addressing things such as time off and flexibility with working hours around treatment. This is seen by many as an important tool for recruitment, retention and productivity.

Appointments can often be at short notice and having open conversations about managing work during these periods can assist both the employee and the organisation. 

The side effects of IVF, both physically and mentally, can be significant. Adjusting deadlines or objectives, where possible, whilst treatment is ongoing can help reduce overall stress levels.

Some larger or more progressive organisations offer a number of paid days for attendance at fertility appointments. Others have specific points of contact for employees going through IVF to discuss the physical and mental impact of the process on a confidential basis. This support is not confined to the employee receiving the IVF treatment, but to partners who wish to accompany their loved ones to appointments, and who can suffer from mental health issues arising from infertility. 

Ultimately, employees can and may choose to keep their fertility issues confidential. However, knowing there is support available can play an important part in their journey as well as increasing the loyalty and retention of employees.

If you have an enquiry relating to the issues discussed in the above article, our Employment Group is able to assist you. Please contact Abigail Maino by email or by telephone on 01483 467412.

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