Weekly dilemma… Time off for fertility treatment

One of my key female employees has told me that she and her partner are starting fertility treatment. Apparently, this could involve a considerable amount of time off. How should I handle this and what are her rights?

One in seven couples in the UK has problems conceiving, so clearly this issue will continue to affect businesses.

Women who are receiving fertility treatment do not have the same statutory rights as women who are pregnant.

They are therefore not entitled to paid time off for ante-natal care, and do not have the specific right to claim automatic unfair dismissal on grounds of their pregnancy.

Some women may be frightened to take time off to attend appointments because of worries it will lead to disciplinary action. Therefore, you should be as flexible as possible, as this will remove an area of stress from the employee. 

As your employee is being up-front and honest with you, you should sit down with her to discuss each other’s expectations.

Look at the woman’s attendance and medical records to date and be aware that you are entitled to seek assurance that any time off for treatment will not affect her performance ratings and will not disrupt your business.

She, in turn, may expect a reasonable number of paid or unpaid days’ absence towards her fertility treatment – bear in mind that the Health & Safety Executive has recently recommended this.

Any time off that is certified by a sicknote should be treated under the company’s sickness policy.

Any request for time off should be treated the same as for a man who has requested time off for, say, elective surgery, to avoid a claim for sex discrimination. Try to establish clear guidelines on this issue.

Remember to take account of the fact that fertility treatment is complex and may be an ongoing process for your employee over a number of years.

Judith Watson, head of employment, Cobbetts

Each week we ask the experts to answer your legal dilemmas. If you have a legal question or dilemma, e-mail dawn.spalding@rbi.co.uk

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