Workplace rights for individuals undertaking IVF treatment 

Nobody enjoys confrontation or issues in the workplace, after all, we spend more than seven hours there, five days a week.

Nobody enjoys confrontation or issues in the workplace, after all, we spend more than seven hours there, five days a week.

But can you imagine going through IVF treatment – and bearing the emotional and physical toll of this but without any accommodations from your employer? This is the case for a surprising number of people. In fact, 1 in every 4women undergoing fertility treatment, faces unfair treatment at work, according to research conducted by PregnantThenScrewed in partnership with Women In Data.

As per reports from the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in every 6 people globally face infertility. This number reveals how common fertility struggles are for couples across the globe. Based on the data collected from the PregnantThenScrewed research, it is clear that society treats people facing infertility differently – especially in the workplace. Being subjected to office gossip, fewer opportunities at work, and issues getting time off for appointments are just a few examples of the discrimination that can be experienced.

Rights for individuals undergoing fertility treatment

In the UK alone, more than 4 million people are thought to suffer from infertility. With the sheer number of individuals affected continuing to grow, this makes the need for proper regulations surrounding fertility treatments even more imperative.

Unfortunately, in the UK there are no regulations or employment laws protecting individuals in the workplace who are undergoing fertility treatment. Protection kicks in only when the fertilised embryo is implanted in the uterus, at which point a woman is classified as pregnant. However, this is short lived for women who experience a failed cycle of IVF or even miscarriage.

Current employment laws in the UK, allow employees to take leave for pre-and postnatal care. They also have the right to request flexible working hours. This however, does not extend to preconception care, leaving a grey area for both employees and employers. In fact, it is extremely rare to see workplaces that have formal policies around preconception care.

It’s fair to say that change is long overdue and the UK is falling behind compared to other countries. Korea not only protects workers from discrimination, but allows up to three days’ leave each year for fertility treatment. In Malta, it’s standard for 100 hours’ paid leave for fertility treatment to be shared between couples. Japan also offers time off for fertility treatment – up to 10 days.

What can employers do?

The research conducted by PregnantThenScrewed, revealed that some women have even reported that their workplace added new clauses in their contract which does not allow leave (paid or unpaid) for any fertility treatment. There should be better workplace protection for individuals, and this is a concern for many couples.

To curb losing out on good talent, employers can work towards creating a formal policy for employees undergoing fertility treatments. A simple understanding of struggles that women with fertility issues face in the workplace, and including them in creating definitive rules for the workplace environment can prevent discrimination and lead to higher employee satisfaction.

However, simple policy drafting alone won’t alleviate this issue. Enforceability is also needed. To solve this, a robust complaint and feedback system can be introduced which allows employees to anonymously or non-anonymously escalate their concerns to higher management. This will enable transparency across all levels of the organisation and prevent exploitation from different levels of the firm as well.

In addition to policy formulation and implementation, some ground level changes that companies can introduce include:

  • Providing a quiet place to make and receive sensitive calls
  • Installing a separate refrigerator or small cold storage unit for storing medication
  • Providing access to a private room for privacy when taking injectable fertility drugs
  • Allowing employees to take last-minute calls from their doctor or fertility clinic

Increasing awareness challenges faced by individuals going through IVF

The main fertility treatment in the UK is IVF. Although some women will choose to have this through the NHS, it can also be carried out at a private IVF clinic in London or elsewhere in the UK. The full process can take up to four months depending on the specifics of the treatment. It’s not unusual for individuals and couples having IVF to need to make time for an initial consultation, fertility tests, follow-up consultations, appointments for medications to be administered, and then of course time for egg collection and embryo transfer. In between these appointments women will also need to find time to administer daily injections, and also have to deal with the side effects of fertility drugs like fatigue, headaches, mood swings, and bloating, all of which can make it difficult to work as normal.

What many people don’t realise is that a fertility treatment can involve several appointments on very short notice with little to no flexibility in timings. This makes scheduling appointments outside of working hours incredibly difficult. The process itself and side effects also take a toll on the body and can impair an individual’s capability to work optimally. Therefore, employers can take a proactive step to allow flexible working to help employees to better manage their work alongside treatment appointments.

Employers can also help to raise awareness amongst other employees to work towards reducing stigma around fertility treatment. A good example of this could be to create a fertility ambassador and host small workshops that enable open dialogue on the topic. In addition, training for managers at all levels can help them to better comprehend the issues involved with fertility treatments. This can also help them to feel more comfortable about approaching highly sensitive conversations to help support employees without crossing their personal boundaries.

Support for employees undergoing IVF

In a world where the number of people suffering with infertility is growing year on year,it’s clear we are in desperate need of paid fertility leave. Ultimately, there’s much more work to be done by employers in the UK to protect workers and provide a more supportive working environment so that women can feel safe and will not be met with negative consequences as a result of infertility.

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Workplace rights for individuals undertaking IVF treatment