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30th October to 5th November is National Fertility Awareness Week. Kate Palmer from HR experts Peninsula outlines how employers can best support employees going through fertility treatment.
According to the NHS website, one in seven couples may struggle to conceive a child. And when an employee is trying to get pregnant without success, this can take an emotional and physical toll. Managing work and day-to-day life may become more of a challenge.
Whether your staff member is trying to get pregnant alone or with a partner, they might decide that fertility treatment is the best option for them. But this can be a long and difficult road.
Employers might not be able to take away the difficulties that fertility issues can bring. But they can help to support staff on their journey. For example, they could…
By law, businesses don’t have to have a fertility policy or specific support measures in place. But having a policy and procedures can help create a more supportive and inclusive workplace overall.
A policy also gives clarity to staff who are experiencing fertility issues and helps to raise awareness. In any policy, employers may want to:
Set out a worker’s rights and any financial support if they are having fertility treatment. This might include paid time off to attend appointments.
Outline the support options on offer. Employers should mention an employee assistance programme if they have one or their flexible working options (which we’ll cover in more depth later).
Signpost external organisations that offer support. Employers should point staff in the direction of organisations that can offer them support. This might involve telling them about local support groups and specialist counselling.
Another way employers can show support is by voluntarily signing up to the Fertility Workplace Pledge. This initiative was set up to support individuals and couples undergoing fertility treatment. And, to help tackle the stigma around fertility issues.
By committing to this pledge, employers show their employees that they support employees’ (or their partner’s) decision to have treatment. So, they don’t need to worry about this having a negative impact on their position at work.
As part of the pledge, employers should take steps to create a supportive environment for their employees. Staff should feel comfortable to open up about their experiences, knowing their workplace is a safe space for them. Employers may want to nominate fertility ambassadors. This gives staff a point of contact if they need further support and information.
Employers can also…
Line managers should be aware of the emotional and physical challenges their employee might be facing. So, offering specific training for them in this area can help them take the right steps to help
staff feel more comfortable in work.
Finding out that you cannot conceive naturally is a devastating loss for many. So, being able to support employees during such a difficult time is essential. Again, line managers may want to have a list of organisations on hand, so they can point employees in the right direction of support. They can also remind staff of their own internal wellbeing support options if they have any.
Employees don’t have a statutory right to take time off work to attend fertility or IVF appointments. But if they are – or their partner is – having treatment, they’re likely to have appointments during working hours. So employers should try to accommodate this as much as possible.
The best practice for employers is to treat fertility appointments the same as they would for medical appointments. And if staff need more time off for treatment, employers could allow them to take this as paid leave or unpaid leave. Alternatively, employers may ask them to take time out of their annual leave. Compassionate leave is another option to consider.
Legally, staff have protection against pregnancy discrimination. That’s from the moment they tell their employer until the end of their maternity leave. Or, from two weeks after the pregnancy ends if they’re not entitled to maternity leave.
If employees fall pregnant through IVF, they have the same pregnancy and maternity rights by law. Their pregnancy rights will start from the moment of embryo implantation.
If the IVF fails, then employees will still have temporary legal protection. That’s for at least two weeks after finding out the implantation was unsuccessful.
To avoid pregnancy discrimination, employers will need to take steps to remove any disadvantages to employees. Employers also must make sure employees don’t receive unfair treatment. Any changes made will be very individual. So, employers should sit down with their employees to find out what they can do to support them in work.
One workplace adjustment might be to allow staff to take regular and longer breaks. It might also mean setting up a private space for them. So, they have somewhere to take sensitive and important phone calls.
Or, it might be to…
Flexible working can be a useful perk when staff might not be feeling well enough to be in work or when they have appointments in work time.
Flexible working could mean allowing staff to:
– Adjust their working hours (maybe around appointments)
– Reduce their hours (to help them get the rest and time to manage treatment around work)
– Work from home (which makes it easier on days when they’re not feeling the best)
– Job share (so they can split responsibilities with a colleague).
Currently, employees have a right to ask for flexible working after 26 weeks of continuous service. So, if an employee requests flexible working, employees should follow the statutory process.
At some point in the next year, it seems likely that flexible working requests will become a day one right. If flexible working is something the employer offers or wants to offer, they need to lay out their rules in a written policy.
The more businesses can do to support employees, the more they tackle the stigma and empower their staff to decisions that are right for them.
And by helping staff throughout their fertility journey, they can help create a more inclusive and open workspace for everyone.
*Kate Palmer is HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula which provides HR and health & safety support for small businesses.