One in Four Women Undergoing IVF Treatment Face Discrimination at Work

By Rachel Davis

Principal Associate

According to a recent report from the Pregnant Then Screwed charity, one in four women undergoing fertility treatment experience unfavourable treatment in the workplace.

Less than half of women going through fertility treatment tell their employer and, of those, one in four don’t receive any support from their employer and almost 25% experience unfair treatment as a result.

Employers should recognise that undergoing fertility treatment can be a stressful and lengthy process and the emotional, physical and financial toll on employees can be significant.  The additional difficulties of going through treatment without having support from their employer or colleagues, can lead to further significant emotional and mental health issues for employees. There is unfortunately often the further stress of needing to manage the physical and emotional impact of failed cycles and even pregnancy loss.

Infertility is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 and it is only once an employee reaches the embryo transfer stage that they have the same rights as a pregnant person including protection from discrimination because of pregnancy or maternity.  However, employers should be mindful that mental or physical health conditions which arise in connection with infertility or fertility treatment could be recognised as a disability under law.  A woman may bring a successful claim for direct sex discrimination if she can show that she has been treated less favourably than a man in similar circumstances, for example, if she has been refused paid time off to attend a medical appointment.  There is also the risk of indirect sex discrimination where the employer has a policy or practice in place, such as a sickness policy, which particularly disadvantages women as a group.  Employers should also be mindful of the rights of other employees with protected characteristics, such as gender reassignment and sexual orientation, who may be pursuing fertility treatment.

With increasing infertility rates in the UK, employers are advised to implement better workplace policies to deal fairly with reproductive health issues and support employees undergoing fertility treatment.  Having an IVF and fertility treatment policy in place which sets out the provision for paid or unpaid time off for medical appointments will provide much needed clarity to those going through treatment.  Having a policy in place will also encourage employees to disclose their plans and concerns and limit unexpected absences and performance issues.  It is also advisable to train line managers in how to approach sensitive conversations in order to provide an informed and consistent approach across the workforce.

If you are an employee undergoing fertility treatment and struggling to balance your work and personal commitments, or if your business needs advice on how to support employees and implement a fertility policy in your workplace, please contact our Employment Team on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our Team will be in touch.