A recent survey conducted by employment law and HR consultancy firm, esphr by WorkNest, reveals a shocking lack of awareness among HR professionals, with 93 percent of employers admitting to not fully understanding their legal obligations when it comes to supporting employees undergoing fertility treatment.
The study highlights a significant gap in HR policies and line manager training, raising concerns about the potential for unfair treatment of employees facing fertility challenges in the workplace.
Despite approximately one in seven couples encountering difficulties conceiving, only one in 10 organisations surveyed reported having a policy specifically addressing fertility treatment.
The legal framework, according to the NHS, lags behind the commonality of fertility issues in the workplace, treating fertility treatment on par with elective medical procedures like laser eye surgery.
Sarah James, Associate Solicitor at esphr by WorkNest, emphasises the potential consequences of this lack of legal protection, stating, “This lack of legal rights for employees and limited awareness from employers can potentially lead to unfair treatment for employees. Our findings underscore the importance of employers being well-informed about such matters to ensure that they provide appropriate support.”
What about line manager training?
The absence of line manager training on the topic is equally concerning. None of the surveyed organisations reported offering comprehensive training for line managers in supporting employees dealing with fertility challenges. A staggering 94 percent admitted to providing no training at all. Sarah James points out that this knowledge gap may leave managers ill-equipped to assist team members facing both physical and emotional challenges, potentially causing reputational harm to organisations.
On a positive note, the survey found that 71 percent of companies allow employees to take time off for fertility treatment appointments and related purposes. However, the issue of paid time off remains ambiguous, prompting Sarah James to suggest that organisations consider introducing paid time off policies for such appointments to avoid employees depleting their annual leave entitlement.
Fertility policies need to be clear
esphr recommends that organisations establish clear and comprehensive fertility policies. These should specify the types of treatments covered, rights granted for time off and pay during appointments, available workplace support, treatment-related sickness absence protocols, stipulations for partner attendance, and confidentiality protection measures.
While recognising the value of having a policy in place, Sarah James advises against treating it as an isolated document. Instead, she suggests using it as a reference point for employees and line managers and encourages organisations to store the policy where it can be accessed without specific requests, respecting employees’ confidentiality choices during such a sensitive time. In a challenging recruitment market, providing support in this area could potentially become a crucial factor for employees choosing a workplace.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.