HR expert Kate Palmer outlines how employers should treat employees undergoing IVF and highlights their legal rights.
Going through IVF or any fertility treatment can be stressful. Stress is something every doctor tells you to avoid. So how can employers support staff who are undergoing IVF?
Unlike antenatal appointments, there is no specific statutory right to take time off work to undergo IVF treatment and whether this is permitted is down to the discretion of the employer. However, employers should always bear in mind that IVF treatment can be a challenging procedure for an individual, potentially having a significant impact on their mental and physical health. It is therefore crucial that they are prepared to take steps to assist employees in this process and to ensure they feel supported in the workplace.
Legally, a woman undergoing IVF treatment is deemed to be pregnant from the point of implantation of a fertilised embryo. This means that she is technically considered pregnant until it is established that she is not. This means she receives the same protections and entitlements as other pregnant employees. These are in place up until two weeks after it is confirmed the treatment was unsuccessful. She is also protected from unfair treatment because of the procedure itself. For example, someone on sick leave due to the treatment may be able to claim sex discrimination if they are subjected to detrimental treatment.
With all of this in mind, the first thing to do is to introduce a specific workplace policy that details the company’s approach to supporting staff who are undergoing IVF treatment. This will typically cover responsibilities from both the employer and employee regarding notification, alongside any workplace adjustments that will be considered to assist them. It can also be used to encourage employees to come forward and discuss their situation if they are undergoing treatment.
It is also important to prepare for the time that will be required for the treatment, including periods where the employee may need to take sick leave. As a result, employers could consider allowing them to work a temporary period of flexible working hours. These could be structured to take into account appointment times while also helping the employee to avoid taking prolonged periods away from work. It is crucial to remember that, if the employee is off sick as a result of IVF treatment, this must be discounted from any absence measuring procedures.
Adjustments to the employee’s working day that may help to combat these issues could be considered where possible, such as working from home or redistributing workloads. If available, the employee could also be provided access to third-party support such as an Employee Assistance Programme, which can offer advice and counselling services to staff when dealing with both professional and personal issues.
Although matters such as this should remain confidential, employees may find themselves subjected to bullying or harassment in the workplace if news of their IVF treatment reaches the wider workforce. Employers should always work to ensure any incidents of bullying and harassment are handled accordingly and that any perpetrators are disciplined in line with company policy.