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Potential UK Government changes and recommendations to Employers’ fertility policies

Potential UK Government changes and recommendations to Employers’ fertility policies

Co-founder of Fertility Matters at Work.
Originally published at Fertility Road Magazine, ISSUE 56.

In the previous issue of Fertility Road magazine, Claire Ingle and Helen Burgess talked about entitlements, more specifically the lack of entitlements, when it comes to dealing with fertility treatment whilst in the workplace. To help change this, we at Fertility Matters at Work, amongst others, are working with MP Nickie Aiken in the UK to campaign for statutory time off for people who have to attend appointments for assisted reproductive treatment. This would effectively mean that fertility appointments would be treated in the same way as antenatal appointments, with our hope being that over time fertility appointments would also become expected, accepted and acknowledged as a statutory right by organisations.

Under the recent Private Members Bill (PMB), proposed and submitted to parliament by MP Nickie Aiken, all companies in the UK would have to give both employees and their partners time off for fertility treatment. We’ve spoken with Nickie on one of her recent podcast episodes https://anchor.fm/nickie-aiken/episodes/Improving-IVF-support-in-the-workplace-e1gj9qa to help provide an understanding of the real-life challenges that people face. She’s now working hard to raise awareness of this issue and in recent interviews with national media has shared how she understands that “undergoing treatment while juggling a career is very tough. Many people feel they cannot tell their employer for fear of being overlooked for a promotion or being made redundant.”

What would it mean to you to have the statutory right to take time off to attend appointments for fertility treatment?

This law could be a potential game changer mainly because it effectively gives employees the confidence and validation to talk to their employer about going through treatment (if they choose to) rather than feeling like they have to hide it. I’m sure your feelings about what it would mean to you mirror many of those within our Fertility Matters at Work Instagram community who shared:

“I wouldn’t have to feel guilty for taking time off, which eventually led me to leave my job.”

“It would give me the headspace to deal with the emotional rollercoaster without having to take sick days.”

“It would mean I could focus on treatment and not have the extra stress of sneaking around.”

“It would mean everything. Validation that infertility is a real thing.”

“It would mean gaining a little control in this unpredictable world that is infertility”.

“I wouldn’t have to delay treatment until I can take holiday”.

“Relief that I could still have a holiday rather than having no holiday left.”

“More relaxed and not having to use annual leave.”

“I wouldn’t feel like an inconvenience to the business.”

Giving security to openly take authorised time off

It’s hoped that this proposed change will help those who may currently be going through multiple rounds of tough IVF treatments in secret. Many people go through treatment in silence due to a fear of impact to their career and professional reputation, resulting in them feeling they have no other choice but to take sick leave and generally feeling unsupported when often there is no policy, guidance or support within their workplace.

At Fertility Matters at Work, we know from our research that 61.1% did not feel confident talking to their employer about trying for a baby via this route and that many fear that there would be an impact to their career in asking for time off to attend appointments. A law in place to give a statutory right will help them to know that this needs to be recognised and allowed by their employer with little chance of challenge.

Planning fertility treatment around work can be hugely difficult, as it often depends on how your body responds to treatment and when your period starts as to when treatment can begin. The appointments can be up to every other day and sometimes at late notice depending on blood test and scan results. This can make the stress of ‘hiding’ appointments even more difficult to bear and even more difficult to attend. Being able to have authorised time off to attend appointments, even just for an hour in a morning, is one of the most common areas of support people tell us they need. If this law were to pass, it would give them the right to take this time.

Changing mindset and misconceptions

Within our recent FMAW survey we received comments highlighting the misconceptions and challenges that come alongside a lack of legislation relating to this life-event. We asked respondents what would help them feel more supported:

“Being allowed a couple of days off for treatment. Not having HR tell me that I can’t have any time off because treatment is ‘my choice’ rather than a necessity.”

“Clear policies that allow for time off. A more open conversation so it doesn’t feel like wanting a baby means I don’t want a great career too.”

Given that IVF is often seen simplistically as a ‘lifestyle choice’ rather than a treatment for a medical condition, despite the World Health Organisation describing infertility as a “disease of the reproductive system”, this proposed law could drastically change this misconception. It would support in dispelling the myth that fertility isn’t a workplace issue or something to be talked about at work, opening the door for people to take something that is a right, not just a hopeful request.

What if I don’t want to share information about my fertility treatment with my employer?

Some people have asked, would I have to tell my employer that I’m going through fertility treatment with this law in place? It’s important to note that, despite the huge shift that this could potentially bring in awareness and understanding, there will still be people who won’t feel comfortable in disclosing. Even with a law in place, changing mindsets and culture around this topic won’t happen overnight. Assisted reproduction is a hugely personal experience, one that still has stigma and shame attached to it. What we hope is that this will provide greater security to those going through fertility treatment, giving them the opportunity to choose whether or not to disclose, rather than being forced to hide it. So, the simple answer is no, you wouldn’t have to disclose, but being mindful that if your employer doesn’t know, it’s more difficult for them to support you.

How can YOU help make a difference?

The first reading of the “Fertility Treatment: Employment Rights” bill took place in June 2022, with the second reading taking place in UK parliament on 25th November 2022. In the meantime, there’s still work to be done – and YOU can help!

In UK parliament the more momentum and support there is behind a bill, the more chance it has of being debated and passed through. It’s by no means an easy process, but every single one of you can help make a difference by contacting your local MP to share why this is so important to you (or your loved one if you’re not personally affected) and that you expect them to be supporting Nickie Aiken with the “Fertility Treatment – Employment Rights” bill.

We’ve made it really easy for you to do this, head to our website www.fertilitymattersatwork.com/campaign, simply enter your postcode and this will automatically populate an email with your local MP’s email address.

Over the next few weeks, we want to flood the inboxes of MP’s all over the country to get them to take notice! Sharing your personal stories with them can really help bring to life the challenge of fertility treatment on everyday working lives, helping to drive momentum, supporting Nickie to push this legislation through parliament.

Politics has been rather polarising and divisive in recent years in the UK, but it’s important to note that this is a bipartisan issue that will hopefully gain cross party support. Therefore, even if you didn’t personally vote for your local MP, they still represent you in parliament and can help push this forward.

We’re really excited about where this campaign might take us and hope to make the experiences of those going through fertility treatment in the future a little less stressful when it comes to the workplace. To follow the progress of this campaign on our socials head to Instagram: @fertilitymattersatwork, LinkedIn: Fertility Matters at Work, Twitter: @fertmattersatwork.

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Becky Kearns
Becky Kearns
Becky is a patient advocate, founder of DefiningMum, Paths to Parenthub, and co-founder of Fertility Matters at Work. With her personal experience of early menopause, numerous IVF cycles and egg donation, she acts as a patient voice, using her platform to raise awareness and support others on a more difficult path to parenthood, particularly those using donor conception. Working previously as a HR professional, she realised the need for better recognition and support within workplaces for those experiencing struggles to build their family. Fertility Matters at Work are raising awareness and educating organisations about how they can become Fertility Friendly. www.pathstoparenthub.com