A Look At Fertility Treatment And Your Responsibilities

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During the last few years, there has been a surge of women undergoing fertility treatment in the UK. The latest figures obtained from www.hfea.gov.uk claim there were over 48,000 women aged between 35 and 45 who had fertility treatment during 2010 and 2011. Furthermore, there seems to be an unofficial trend that more and more women are leaving starting a family until they are older, which reduces the chances of becoming pregnant, thereby turning to fertility treatment for help. For employers, especially with small businesses, having a female employee go on maternity leave alone creates challenges so they are often left frustrated and unclear about their rights and responsibilities. The law surrounding maternity is clear and well embedded in employment legislation but what is not so clear is what happens when an employee is trying to become pregnant. The Health and Safety Executive recommends allowing employees who are having fertility treatment, a reasonable number of paid or unpaid days’ leave to allow them time to have the treatment. Women are more likely to incur extra absences as they require most of the treatment. It is good practice for businesses to have a policy in place that states any time off for fertility treatment should be taken as annual leave. The request for annual leave cannot be refused to deny your female employee the opportunity to become pregnant, because she will then go off on maternity leave. The case for having a clear policy on time off for fertility treatment ensures consistent practice is applied throughout your business and the employee also is clear about how they can have the time off. Fertility treatment can cause sickness and other adverse reactions, including depression and stress. The employee is entitled to SSP in the normal way. If the company pays sick pay then the same employee would also be eligible. The company sick pay policy should make it clear who is eligible for company sick pay. Regarding rules on sick pay and sickness absence, a woman who is adversely affected by these rules because she was undergoing fertility treatment would have a claim for indirect discrimination. So it pays to take some advice on this issue. Unfortunately, fertility treatment does not always guarantee success the first time round so your employee may go through several cycles of treatment and further time off work. Again the employee should take this as annual leave or if they have used up their entitlement then request unpaid leave to undergo treatment. When a fertility cycle fails, some employees may suffer with depression and require counselling or time off work. The business decision to allow paid or unpaid time off to attend counselling must be universally applied to all employees to demonstrate there is no discrimination. Once the ova/egg has been implanted into the female uterus she is legally pregnant. She then has the right to time off to attend antenatal appointments, have a risk assessment conducted on her work place and paid time off for maternity leave. Antenatal appointments are hard to re-arrange and if the female has to have these appointments where she had her fertility treatment, she may well not be able to change or dictate when the appointment is. Although employers can ask a pregnant employee to try and arrange her antenatal appointments outside of work time, it is usually out of the employee’s control. Part time employees stand a better chance of having the appointment outside of their working times, but again this is out of their control and they may have to accept whatever appointment they are given. There are a lot of mental health issues that come with fertility treatment so your employees may not be themselves or as focussed as they were before. This may need the employer to be sensitive to the needs of the employee. If your employee is open about their treatment and happy to talk to you about it, grab this opportunity as you will then be kept in the loop about what is happening and allow you to plan for the coming days, weeks and months.

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