Employees undergoing fertility treatment could be given new legal protections against discrimination if a private members’ bill expected to be tabled shortly is taken forward.
Nickie Aiken, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, wants specific protections for workers who undergo treatments such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF), including a right to time off work.
Unlike employment legislation for pregnancy, maternity and paternity antenatal care, there is no requirement for employers to grant time off work for IVF, meaning staff often have to go outside working hours, take annual leave, or lie to their employers about their whereabouts.
Aiken claimed that some women who take time off for IVF appointments are treated unfavourably by employers. She told Times Radio that many feel forced to hide their treatment, which can add to the “stress that may lead to unsuccessful treatment”.
She had heard examples of women who had smuggled syringes into office toilets and had lied to managers about where they were while attending IVF appointments.
Fertility treatment benefits
Many are forced to schedule early morning or weekend appointments which can cost a premium because they do not feel able to attend appointments during their working hours.
She expects to table a private members’ bill that will make it illegal to dismiss or sideline staff who are trying to get pregnant via IVF, and grant workers a legal right to time off for fertility appointments.
“Women are facing discrimination at work and even being forced out of their jobs because they haven’t got rights to take IVF treatment currently,” Aiken told Times Radio. “I’ve had numerous women tell me they’ve been either sidelined or sacked.”
The NHS suggests that infertility affects one in seven couples. Aiken said more than 40% of women using IVF are under 35, and many turn to the treatment for medical reasons, such as having gone through early menopause or cancer.
Her campaign has gained the support of business minister Paul Scully, who told the Times he was “keen that employers should give employees as much time off as possible for these life events like IVF”.
However, Scully said “it may be difficult to keep isolating individual cases” for protection in law, with the government already facing calls for menopause protections, for example.
Natalie Sutherland, a partner at family law specialists Burgess Mee, told a recent webinar hosted by People in Law that it was important for firms to develop a culture where people could talk about their family plans, as this could benefit staff wellbeing, retention and attraction.
Sutherland said she has supported Aiken with her bill. “A lot of the time these issues are kept secret – people go off to IVF appointments and don’t want to tell people they’re having that treatment,” she said.
“There has to be a culture change, because for women there’s always this fear that if you are trying to get pregnant, or if you are pregnant, people will think worse of you and that you’re not committed to your career.”