Under current UK law, women do not have specific employment protections relating to pregnancy until the final stage of the in vitro fertilisation (IVF) process. In a call for greater workplace protection for women, MP Nickie Aiken has launched a campaign asking the government to introduce a legal right to time off for medical appointments in the early stages of IVF.
Implications of IVF treatment
The IVF process was used by 53,000 people in 2019. IVF is a type of fertility treatment where fertilisation takes place outside the body. It is suitable for people with a wide range of fertility issues and is one of the most commonly used and successful treatments available.
A woman who is treated less favourably because she is undergoing IVF treatment might successfully bring a claim for sex discrimination. However, the law does not currently provide specific protection to those accessing treatment at the earlier stages, as early IVF appointments are not recognised as antenatal appointments or sickness absence.
As well as the potential addition of a family member, IVF treatment can result in both mental and physical exhaustion. Common side effects of undergoing IVF treatment include:
- an increased chance of ectopic pregnancy;
- ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome;
- complications of multiple births;
- hot flushes;
- low mood; and
MP Nickie Aiken argues that thousands of women try to hide their IVF process from their employers as they fear it will be held against them and they will face workplace discrimination. To combat this, Ms Aiken has called for the government to introduce a right to time off for medical appointments in the early stages of IVF through a Private Member’s Bill due to be tabled in the new parliamentary season.
We are yet to see what the proposed Private Member’s Bill will look like or whether it will make any progress at all. In the meantime, employers who wish to provide a supportive workplace for those undergoing IVF treatment (and perhaps minimise the risk of sex discrimination claims related to IVF) could consider:
- helping to establish a supportive environment (for example, by introducing educational workshops that discuss IVF treatment and fertility issues);
- training managers and HR on how to support staff who disclose that they are undergoing IVF treatment;
- extending the right to time off work or flexible work options to include the early stages of IVF treatment; and
- establishing a fertility benefits policy in the workplace that, for example, covers egg freezing costs.
If you would like assistance with adopting any of the above suggestions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of our team.