IVF Treatment

IVF Treatment

We have a female member of staff who is about to undertake a course of IVF treament and will be needing time off work. It is likely to be about 1 day a week and I would be grateful to hear from anyone else with a similar experience and how the absence was treated - sickness, (paid or unpaid) annual leave, unpaid absence etc. Also, If the first atempt is unsuccessful how much additional time off should be permitted?

Any advise you could give would be appreciated as I am aware this is a grey area.
Sue Scott

Comments

We have a similar issue with one of our female staff. In the first session of treatment, she was allowed to attend as paid sick leave, but as it was unsuccessful, the second attempt was pre-arranged on days off. We have the advantage that the department works shifts, so some days off in the week is the norm.

I've come across this quite a lot in different businesses and the employer's attitude and the employee's "status" within the business tend to add to the muddle. I've seen various mixtures treating the absence as sickness for coccupational sick pay purpose, requiring the employee to take holidays or insisting that unpaid leave is taken. There's huge potential for discriminatory practice unless one is scupulously even handed.

The usual test for discrimination is that sick (or pregnant/childbearing) women should not be treated any less favourably than male employees.

One could argue that, since the treatment is entirely elective, it does not constitute sickness under the usual definitions, but that could be defined clearly in the contract of employment. But again, that's a grey area because infertility might be described as a medical condition that requires treatment - which may be ongoing for some time. How would one deal with a male employee wanting time off for a vasectomy - also effectively elective surgery?

Personally, I believe that forward-thinking, family-friendly employers would be broadly supportive of employees undergoing IVF. By all accounts, it's a desparately stressful process, that isn't entered into lightly. I'd like to think that employers would treat at least the first full cycle (extraction and multiple implantations) as sickness. There may be an argument for dealing differently with subsequent cycles; I'm aware that some employers restrict enhanced occupational maternity schemes to the first two or three pregnancies.

I hope that was some help. Best of luck to you with this one - and to your broody employee...

Sue,

I've been looking to develop a policy in this area and would welcome any information on how other organisations treat time off for IVF treatment and whether this is distingished from other forms of fertility treatment, for example artificial insemination. The only one that I've come across is ASDA who (according to the information that I've been given) allow paid time off for three IVF treatments per annum.

To avoid possible sex discrimination claims, you need to consider how you would treat similar absences for medical treatment. For example doctors / dental appointments and in particular treatments which can involve several sessions such as visiting an osteopath. You should also consider how you treat time off for other elective treatments -for example do you allow paid time off for cosmetic surgery?

Fertility treatment can be prolonged and could last for several cycles over a period of years and there may be related absences caused by reactions to the treatment. It's a difficult and potentially costly area and one that we receive mixed messages about. For example the Government is keen that employers eliminate all forms of discrimination against women at work but sends equally strong messages about the need to reduce absence levels.

My own thoughts are that it's difficult to distinguish between different types of medical treatment without creating difficulties when you have to implement the policy. When is cosmentic surgery a medical neccessity and when isn't it given the potential physical / psychological issues that it may be dealing with? If you distinguish between forms of medical treatment why stop at IVF?

I tend to favour consistency - treat all absences for doctors appointments / medical treatment as sickness absence as this provides a limit to the potential cost to the organisation but goes a long way towrds meeting the needs of your employees / acting as a good employer. As a final point if you do develop a policy bear in mind that you need to word this carefully as both men and women may need time off for IVF /other forms of fertility treatment and you could face claims for paid time off for "doners" as well as those wanting treatment for their own infertility.

Thanks Amanda, Gordon and Alan for taking the time to comment on my query. It is still a grey area, but gives us some food for thought.

Thanks again

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