Around 15% of the population experiences infertility, affecting men and women equally. Having trouble conceiving can be incredibly hard emotionally and can impact many areas of your life including your social relationships, finances, and work.
If you are undertaking fertility treatments such as IUI (intrauterine insemination), IVF (in-vitro fertilisation) or sperm/egg freezing, it’s likely to involve multiple appointments. As these appointments are often based on specific stages throughout the menstrual cycle or carefully timed procedures, it is difficult to plan for them at work and give as much notice as you would for other types of leave.
It’s therefore understandable if you are worried about how you are going to juggle work alongside your treatment, and how your employer will respond to you needing time off.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide which explains how you can approach the subject with your employer and what your rights are when going through fertility treatment.
Can you work during IVF treatment?
Most people continue to work full-time during IVF or fertility treatment. Whilst appointments may interrupt your work schedule, there’s no reason why you can’t continue to work. However if you are at high risk of any health issues or have a physically demanding job, you may wish to speak with your doctor.
Your employer may also be able to make reasonable adjustments to your workload or reduce your hours if required. Find out more about how to speak to your employer about IVF.
Can you take time off work for fertility treatment and IVF?
Going through fertility treatment can be incredibly stressful. It is also often time-consuming and can be intense, with many appointments, blood tests, and procedures taking place in just a matter of days.
You might get little notice of when you need to next attend your clinic and even if you do have a timeline in place, this can change quite quickly depending on how the treatment goes.
Whilst you don’t have to tell your employer that you are going through fertility treatment, it can be beneficial to be honest with them. If they know that you are undergoing treatment and will need time off at short notice, they may be able to offer you a temporary flexible working arrangement.
Even if this isn’t possible, your employer being aware of the situation can make it less stressful for you both. For you, it can mean you can take the time off you need without worrying about what work might think. It’s also less stressful for them, as they can be more prepared with covering your work when you are gone.
Whilst many employers will be sympathetic and accommodate the time off that you need, there is no statutory right to time off work for fertility treatment. However, your employer should treat your situation the same as they would any other medical appointment, in line with your company’s policies. They may also grant you unpaid leave or allow you to use some of your holiday allowance for appointments.
What if the treatment is not successful?
Finding out that your fertility treatment hasn’t been successful can be devastating and it’s completely normal if you need time off work to be able to come to terms with a negative treatment outcome. This doesn’t just have to be if you have found out you aren’t pregnant. It could also be if you have received a medical diagnosis, have had a cancelled cycle or a procedure has not had the results you anticipated, for example.
As an employee, you have the right to sick leave if you need time off to process what has happened and you can self-certify for seven days. After that, if you need more time off, you’ll need a doctor’s note. It can be a good idea to speak to your GP about how you are feeling anyway, as they may be able to direct you to a counsellor or other support services.
Depending on your company’s sick leave policy, you may receive full pay for time off or you might be allocated statutory sick pay (SSP).
What other employment rights do I have?
Section 17.29 of the Employment Statutory Code of Practice states that is ‘good practice for employers to treat sympathetically any request for time off for IVF or other fertility treatment’. Your company may have a policy that covers employees undergoing fertility treatment so it could be worth asking your HR department for copies of such policies if they do.
Talk to your line manager or HR to find out what allowances can be made. You may be able to adopt a flexible working schedule or make up the hours.
Employers don’t legally have to allow you time off for medical appointments. For dentist and GP appointments, employers can insist that these occur outside of work hours, however, this isn’t necessarily possible for fertility treatment. If your employer won’t give you paid time off for fertility treatment, then you might be able to use your holiday allowance or have unpaid leave.
Fertility treatments can affect your hormones and make you physically uncomfortable. You may also find that you need to self-administer fertility medications throughout your working day. Whilst employers have no legal obligation to do so, it is good practice for them to make reasonable adjustments for such things. This might mean allowing you to work from home or finding a space where you can do required injections privately.
You have pregnancy rights once you have an embryo transfer. From this stage, you’ll receive the same leave, pay and protection entitlements as any other pregnant person. This protection period lasts up to the end of your maternity leave. If implantation is unsuccessful, the protected period lasts for two weeks.
Am I protected from workplace discrimination due to IVF?
There is no current legislation that protects those undergoing fertility treatment and it is not covered under the Equality Act 2010. However, Section 17.28 of the Employment Statutory Code of Practice, does stipulate that ‘an employer must not treat her less favourably than they treat, or would treat, a man in a similar situation as this could amount to sex discrimination.’
Therefore, if you are female or the birthing parent, and feel you are being treated unfairly or have been dismissed as a direct result of undergoing fertility treatment, you might have a sex discrimination claim.
If you are going to be starting fertility treatment soon, why not ask Apryl for support using our fertility benefits employee programme? We can get in touch with your employer on your behalf, with complete anonymity and discretion, and help them to help you.