Best practice news on flexible working and fertility treatment

A Flexible Working Bill which aims to make it easier for employees to get flexible working has passed its second reading while the Co-op has announced a new policy for employees undergoing fertility treatment.

Woman Working From Home Using Laptop On Dining Table


Workers could have the right to request flexible working from day one if a new Bill, which passed its first reading last week, goes through.

The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill was introduced on 15th June 2022 by Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi as a Private Member’s Bill after the shelving of the Employment Bill by the Boris Johnson government earlier this year and passed its second reading on 28th October. It will now head to the committee stage.

It seeks to amend the Employment Rights Act 1996:
– to remove the requirement for employees to explain in their applications what effect they think their flexible working request will have on the employer,
– to allow employees to make two flexible working requests per 12 months instead of the one currently allowed,
– to require employers to consult with the employee before being allowed to refuse an application and
– to reduce the deadline for an employer decision on flexible working requests from three months to two months.

The Bill would apply to England, Scotland and Wales but not Northern Ireland where employment law is a devolved matter.

Yasmin Qureshi said: “This Bill will ensure more people can access flexible working and act as a catalyst to address the barriers faced by women, the disabled, carers, and older people.”

Reproductive rights

Meanwhile, the Co-op has announced a new policy which enables staff  to take paid time off for fertility treatments.

The time off is flexible and unrestricted as it cannot assume to know what employees will need, says the Co-op. The measures apply to employees regardless of how long they have worked for Co-op or the number of hours they work. They also extend to employees using a surrogate and partners wanting to accompany those going to appointments for fertility treatment, with paid leave for up to 10 appointments per cycle and for up to three cycles of fertility treatment.

The policy, announced for National Fertility Week, coincided with new research commissioned by Co-op with YouGov which found that over two fifths (45%) of people who are currently undertaking, or have previously undertaken fertility treatment whilst working, didn’t talk with to their manager before embarking on fertility treatment.

When asked why they didn’t speak to their workplace about it, over half of this audience (51%) said it was too personal to talk about, two fifths (42%) didn’t feel comfortable raising it, just over a third (35%) felt unable to talk to openly and honestly about their fertility struggles and worryingly over a fifth (21%) thought it might negatively impact their career.

The Co-op is launching a guide for managers to help provide appropriate practical and emotional support to those going through fertility treatment. The guide will be made publicly available. The Co-op study found 65% of people who managed or are managing someone going through IVF treatment whilst working say they have not received training on how to support colleagues undergoing fertility treatment. And 85% of those managers agreed more training was needed to provide better support for colleagues going through fertility treatment in the workplace.

Co-op’s chief executive, Shirine Khoury-Haq, said: “It’s incredibly difficult to navigate through fertility treatment while balancing work and the wider impact it has on your life. Sadly, in some cases, there is also the need to manage the physical and emotional impact of failed cycles and even pregnancy loss.

“The decision to discuss this with your employer is an incredibly difficult and personal one. However, by creating a supportive environment companies can go a long way in opening the conversation with colleagues and easing the stress that people in this situation often feel. Having gone through all of this myself, I felt very lucky to be in a supportive professional environment; however, this isn’t always the case for so many people. I feel very proud that the Co-op is leading the way on launching a fertility policy and supporting our colleagues at a time when they need it most.”

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