As part of a campaign led Nickie Aiken, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, employees who undergo fertility treatments could receive new legal protections against discrimination.
If passed into law, the Private Member’s Bill would demand that workers undergoing these treatments, such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF), are to gain specific protections.
Most notably, this would include a right to have time off work for appointments related to fertility treatments, which currently does not exist for employees.
What are the current rules?
Existing legislation offers protection to employees during pregnancy, maternity, paternity, and antenatal care. However, there is nothing to say that employers must allow staff to take time off work for treatments such as IVF.
As a result, affected employees are forced to use annual leave to attend these appointments if booked during working hours, or mislead their employer about how they are spending their time.
Due to this, there is a growing argument that employees undergoing fertility treatments are treated unfavourably in employment, which has sparked Nickie Aiken’s campaign.
A typical opposing argument would suggest that employees should simply book appointments outside of working hours, however this does not consider the reality of these appointments being much more expensive, and therefore less accessible.
What impact could the bill have?
Should the bill become law, unfavourable treatment of staff using IVF could become illegal, including the dismissal of these employees.
As outlined above, affected employees could also receive a statutory right to take time off work to attend fertility appointments.
Aiken has supported her campaign by highlighting instances of discrimination in the workplace, drawing on examples where female employees have been forced out of their jobs or sacked due to the commitments involved with undergoing IVF.
According to research in support of Aiken’s campaign, more than a third of women undergoing fertility treatments have considered quitting their job, with 70% stating that they were forced to take sickness absence to attend appointments.
Case example – Karavadra v BJ Cheese Packaging
In the case of Karavadra v BJ Cheese Packaging, an employee received over £21,000 in compensation, after an employment tribunal ruled that she had been unfairly dismissed due to being pregnant.
This occurred following the completion of IVF treatment, for which the employer had allowed Karavadra to use one month of annual leave.
Upon return to work, the employee was told that her annual leave had caused staff shortages and complication for the business, demonstrating how employees undergoing IVF can be treated unfavourably by their employer.
The tribunal later ruled that Karavadra had been dismissed for the sole reason of being pregnant, under the Employment Rights Act 1996.
What can employers learn from this?
If you have employees that are undergoing, or are due to undergo a fertility treatment, it is crucial that you remain aware of the potential risk of discrimination.
Absence or leave taken for these treatments must be handled fairly, with failure to do so leading to potential employment tribunal claims later down the line.
Should Aiken’s bill be passed into law, the position of employers and employees is likely to evolve, with further updates to be provided as the bill progresses.
If you have any questions on managing employees who are undergoing a fertility treatment, or any other area of employment, AHR Consultants can help.
Call us today on 0345 076 2288 or complete the form below.