If passed into law, the Bill would give employees a statutory right to take time off work to attend fertility treatment clinic appointments.
According to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority around 60,000 people in the UK use fertility services each year. However research published last month by the Fertility Network UK found that 55% of employees going through fertility treatment, or experiencing fertility issues, do not receive adequate support from their employers. And only 25% of those surveyed believed that their employer had implemented a supportive workplace policy. These statistics are a key indicator that it is time for new legislative measures.
The Fertility Treatment (Employment Rights) Bill ('the Bill') has been introduced in Parliament. The Bill would require employers to allow an employee to take paid time off work to attend fertility treatment appointments. In addition, an employee who has a "qualifying relationship" with a person receiving fertility treatment would be entitled to take unpaid time off work to accompany the person to the appointments.
An employee would have the right not to be subjected to any detriment by any act, or any deliberate failure to act, by their employer in connection with their right to take time off work to attend fertility treatment appointments. If an employee is dismissed for attending these appointments, it would be regarded as an unfair dismissal.
A Bill which focuses on these issues is overdue. Other countries have been more forward thinking in their approach to supporting employees experiencing fertility problems. For example, Malta has adopted fertility legislation allowing 100 hours of paid leave for couples undergoing IVF - 60 hours for the woman and 40 for the partner. Whether the UK Parliament supports the Bill will be clearer following the second reading which is due to take place on 25 November 2022.
A Fertility Workplace Pledge ('the Pledge') has been launched alongside the Bill, designed to benefit individuals and couples going through fertility treatment. Several large UK employers have signed the Pledge which means they will:
- Implement a workplace fertility policy to increase transparency and reduce the stigma surrounding fertility issues;
- Appoint a fertility ambassador to encourage open conversations and promote internal support;
- Provide training for line managers to improve their understanding of the physical, emotional and financial impacts of fertility treatment; and
- Give staff the right to request flexible working so that they can attend fertility clinic appointments.
In due course we will see how effective the Pledge is and whether Parliament supports the Bill. These measures are a positive step towards ensuring that fertility treatment (and its impact) is more understood and sensitively handled in the workplace.
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