Michelle Last: Supporting employees through fertility treatment in the workplace

Employees will often face physical and mental issues associated with their fertility journey, which can impact workplace performance, conduct, relationships and job satisfaction. How can employers support employees receiving fertility treatment?

Having a written policy dealing with potential fertility issues in the workplace undoubtedly gives an employer the opportunity to show its understanding of fertility in the workplace, while maintaining employee expectations on the support which is available. It would also remove any uncertainty employees may have about how an employer will address such issues at work and what employees should do to access support. It also assists managers in how to deal with potentially difficult and sensitive matters which may arise.

A package of measures can include rights to time off work for both the party to the treatment and their partner, as well as support if the treatment is not successful and miscarriage occurs, egg freezing and HR support on a confidential basis.

A fertility policy ideally should be written with specialist understanding about fertility treatments and potential legal issues. It should also not assume it applies only to men and women in heterosexual couples, or even in a relationship.

A fertility awareness course for HR and managers can also be immensely beneficial. Although there are a lot of resources available on the internet, nothing beats hands-on training from employment experts. If more employers were made aware of the potential issues arising from their employees undergoing fertility treatment, more businesses might adopt written policies.

The more flexibility an employer can offer, the less disruption there may also be with unplanned absences and potential mental health issues.

Many businesses now recognise this and are allowing their employees time off for fertility treatment. Some offer unlimited leave, while others give a set number of days with the option of additional unpaid leave and flexible working arrangements Those that have adopted such policies say employees have responded very positively and responsibly. They have found it generates goodwill which helps foster a happy workforce, and this in turn improves productivity and builds good customer relations.

Progressive employers want to be at the forefront of offering the very best support to their employees and an employee in a supportive environment during a difficult time in their life, is much more likely to want to remain with the employer longer term. This can reap rewards in terms of diversity and retention.

Michelle Last is an employment partner at Keystone Law