This article is the third in our Employee wellbeing series. Further details are below.
In this third article in our wellbeing series we discuss the growing importance and value placed on employer-support for employees undergoing fertility treatment and dealing with miscarriage or baby loss. Employers are used to providing support to employees throughout the birth and adoption processes but most will be less familiar with, and less likely to have policies in place to support employees during, fertility treatment such as egg-freezing or IVF. Similarly, miscarriage and baby loss are not topics that have historically been discussed, let alone addressed by employers.
However, as people are beginning families later in life, fertility issues, miscarriage and baby loss are unfortunately becoming more commonplace. Accordingly there have been calls for legislative change to provide greater support to employees in these areas with two private members’ bills being tabled. We discuss these further below, but more importantly perhaps we discuss what employers can consider implementing now to support employees currently navigating these issues.
Not only will such support be helpful to any employees personally affected by these issues and in turn help retain them in the workforce, it will also contribute towards building a supportive and inclusive workplace culture that in turn will help attract and retain talent. As discussed in our previous employee wellbeing article, post-pandemic, employees are placing greater value on workplace culture in deciding where they work and for how long they stay, so it is something that employers should not overlook.
Potential legislative change
In June 2022, the Fertility Treatment (Employment Rights) Bill was introduced to Parliament as a Private Members’ Bill. The Bill, which, if passed, would entitle an employee, along with their partner, undergoing fertility treatment (including IVF and egg/embryo freezing) to paid time off to attend appointments. A separate Private Members’ Bill, the Miscarriage Leave Bill, was introduced in September 2022, which seeks to extend the right to parental bereavement leave to provide three days’ paid leave for parents who experience a miscarriage in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy – this right is currently only available to employees who have a stillbirth or miscarriage after 24 weeks of pregnancy.
It is unclear if/when either of these Bills will become law, but the key implementations that they suggest may nonetheless be a good starting point for employers looking to introduce their own policies to support employees going through fertility treatment, miscarriage or baby loss. Several organisations, including ACAS, the CIPD and the Fawcett Society, have recently published guidance for employers in these areas which may be of use.
According to a CIPD report published in May 2023, almost one in five (19%) employees said they had considered leaving their job because of their experience at work when they were facing fertility challenges, investigations or treatment, and a Fertility Network UK study in 2016 involving 865 patients undergoing fertility treatment found that 13% of respondents reduced their hours and 6% left their job as a result of treatment. The benefits of putting in place support are clear, so we have set out below some recommendations for employers who would like a steer on how best to approach this in their own organisations:
- Introduce clear policies on each of fertility treatment and baby loss. The policies should make it clear what help is available whilst emphasising that the company understands the significant impact fertility issues and baby loss can have on an employee’s life.
- Provide training to the general workforce to increase awareness and understanding of fertility issues and baby loss to break down stigma. It is important that the training is inclusive and acknowledges the challenges faced by both men and women in order to open up the conversation for both sexes.
- Provide specific training to managers on how to approach conversations around fertility and baby loss sensitively, increase their confidence in speaking to members of their team dealing with such issues and ensure they know how to recognise if an employee is struggling with their mental health.
- Allow employees appropriate time off to attend fertility appointments.
- Grant a reasonable period of time off to employees who experience miscarriage/baby loss (this could be granted under a specific miscarriage/baby loss policy or a more general compassionate leave policy).
- Be flexible with an employee’s working schedule/arrangements and responsibilities during fertility treatment cycles where possible, including allowing an employee to work from home e.g. if they are expecting an important call informing them of the success/failure of treatment.
- Consider whether it is possible to provide fridge space in the office to store medications.
- Ensure there is a private space for employees to take personal calls in relation to their treatment and/or to inject medication if required.
- Sign-post employees to where they can access useful resources regarding fertility treatment and baby loss, e.g. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP), internal networks and/or externally produced information..
- Financial support with fertility treatments will not be possible for many employers but for those who can afford it this can be a persuasive employee incentive.
- The importance of emotional support and understanding should not be overlooked however. If there is sufficient interest, setting up an internal network for those facing fertility struggles could be invaluable. In any case, opening up the conversation by holding talks, arranging training and publicising available support internally will send a clear message to employees that their employer appreciates how difficult these issues can be and may in turn encourage employees to speak to and support each other.
This wellbeing series focuses on the potential positive outcomes for employers that put in place practices and policies to support employee wellbeing, but it is also important for employers to be aware of the risks for those employers that fail to do so.
Whilst fertility issues can affect both men and women in one way or another, when it comes to the work-life impacts of fertility treatment, it is women who are likely to be affected physically and mentally by the medication required for the treatment process. Taking an inflexible approach and failing to make allowances for this, e.g. refusing to let an employee work from home if she is struggling with medication side-effects, may risk a sex discrimination claim. Similarly, if an employee suffers a miscarriage they will likely be covered by the protected characteristic of pregnancy and so any unfavourable treatment in relation to the miscarriage could trigger a discrimination claim. The ACAS guidance referred to above suggests that any absences related to the miscarriage in the two-week period after the pregnancy ends should not be counted towards any trigger points in an employer’s absence policy.
Employee wellbeing series
Other articles in the series so far: