With an increasing number of women choosing to have children later in life, the number of people turning to IVF treatment is on the rise. For employers, this presents some challenges.
Not only is IVF treatment a topic an employee is likely to feel uneasy discussing openly, it will almost inevitably impact their attendance levels. For small businesses, in particular, this increased absence can be tricky to accommodate.
You’re likely aware that there’s considerable legislation surrounding pregnancy and maternity, but where does IVF fit into this? And how can you support an employee undergoing IVF treatment while balancing the needs and pressures of your business?
What does the law say about IVF treatment?
There’s currently no UK employment legislation covering IVF treatment, meaning employees have no statutory right to take time off for it.
While this does free employers from any legal obligations directly relating to IVF, the absence of clear rules arguably makes managing the situation – which is already a sensitive one – even trickier.
And while there’s currently no legislation directly relating to IVF, it’s important to consider legislation regarding discrimination, and pregnancy and maternity protections, when determining your approach.
IVF and pregnancy rights
IVF treatment involves several stages with the final stage being the embryo transfer.
An employee is protected by pregnancy rights from the date of embryo transfer. There is then a two-week wait until a pregnancy test can be carried out.
If the transfer has been successful, the pregnancy protection continues and the employee is protected against unfair treatment in the same way that any other pregnant employee might be.
From this point, any absences relating to the pregnancy cannot be counted towards triggering your absence management process.
The employee will also be entitled to paid time off to attend antenatal appointments.
Do I have to allow my employee time off for IVF appointments?
Employers should view IVF appointments in the same way as any other medical appointment and treat them identically, in line with the terms of the employment contract.
For example, if your policy is to allow employees reasonable paid time off for medical appointments, this will also hold for IVF appointments.
What if my employee is taking too much time off for IVF appointments?
Problems commonly arise around IVF treatment when the amount of time off required to attend appointments and / or sickness relating to the treatment, surpasses what the business might usually consider ‘reasonable’.
Employers should be very cautious around taking disciplinary action on account of absence levels to make sure that they are not discriminating on the basis of sex.
Advice for supporting an employee going through IVF
One of the most helpful tools for supporting an employee going through IVF and managing the impact to your business is to have an employment policy covering IVF.
IVF policies are gradually becoming more commonplace, and they greatly benefit both employer and employee.
For one, you can use it to communicate that in order for you to be able to best support them, your employee should notify you that they, or their partner, are undergoing IVF treatment. This will help alleviate some anxiety on the part of your employee, who may feel uneasy around communicating what’s going on and why they are needing to attend an increasing number of appointments.
Undergoing IVF treatment is normally an emotionally demanding experience, with the treatment having various physical side effects for the woman attempting to conceive.
By encouraging your employee to communicate with you about their treatment, they’re likely to feel more supported, helping to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety they are no doubt experiencing.
In turn, this will reduce the risk of stress-related absences and impaired productivity. Your employee is likely to want to do the best job they can in the circumstances, so your role as an employer should be to facilitate her in continuing to deliver to the highest standards they can.
An IVF policy can also be used to document how you will approach time off for appointments or any requests to alter hours or responsibilities. This will help employees understand where they stand and help you to stay consistent in your actions.
A policy around IVF is also a brilliant way to position yourself as a family-friendly employer, helping you to attract and retain employees.
Remember that partners are also affected by the treatment cycle. They will also be under considerable emotional pressure and may wish to attend appointments to support the woman attempting to conceive.
Be realistic about how far you can go to support
It’s important not to underestimate the strain supporting an employee through IVF treatment can place on a business.
While you might have the very best intentions to allow your employee as much time off for appointments as they need, you should be aware that the process can be very lengthy and can eventually take its toll on even the most supportive of employers. So it’s important to establish from the outset how far you can go to support your employee.
There’s nothing worse than leading your employee to think they’ll have your indefinite support, only for you to retract it part way through their treatment.
The best thing you can do is get well-informed about the process and what your employee might be going through, and objectively assess and communicate from the outset what you can do as an employer. And remember, you’ll need to stay consistent in your approach with future employees undergoing IVF.
Get HR Support
If you have a member of staff undergoing IVF treatment and would like some advice on your obligations as an employer, our friendly HR consultants can help.
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