An absence request form and the details required for this might be acceptable if a teacher is asking for time off to have knee surgery or to watch their child in a nativity play. Expecting details from a female teacher attending fertility appointments can cause visceral harm.
1. Information is too personal
With fertility treatment can come a multitude of appointments including but not limited to: meetings with the consultant, a mock transfer, internal scans, D&C, egg collection, embryo transfer, and counselling. All of which are very private. To write about them on an absence request form can bring about pain, shame and embarrassment. According to a Fertility Network UK survey, one of the reasons for employees not disclosing treatment to their employers was having to explain the amount of leave that they would need to take.
2. They create a vulnerability
Many schools don’t have a HR department on site. Most of the times absence request forms are to be submitted to the cover supervisor who will then approach the headteacher to sign the paperwork. In other schools it might be the Headteachers PA who is the middle man/woman.
The vulnerability comes from knowing whether they can trust the discretion of the person that the absence request form finds itself in the hands of. It comes also from a fear that the document might be left on the photocopier, or atop a pile of other absence request forms for anyone to see.
For instance, perhaps a member of staff adds their absence request form to the in-tray on the PA’s desk. They have requested Tuesday afternoon off to have a wisdom tooth removed. As they drop the sheet onto the pile of paper they tilt their head as they spot the words ‘fertility treatment’ on the sheet below theirs, along with the name of the member of staff. In this case confidentiality would have been broken.
3. They cultivate an inferiority complex in staff
Fertility appointments can be back to back with short notice for both the patient. Before they know it employees will have a stack of absence request forms reminding them of just how much of an inconvenience they are. But they aren’t. This is the nature of fertility treatment. Every woman’s body will respond differently to hormones meaning there might be more appointments necessary for some than others. The many appointments are to be expected.
There would be nothing preventing a staff member having fertility treatment to request a doctors note for a few weeks until the majority of appointments have passed.
Reasons colleagues don’t take this option:
Lessons need to be covered, there is no escaping this.
There are children to be taught and someone needs to be there to do this.
Absence request forms are a paper trail of who was out and when.
3 alternative approaches for leaders
Invite the member of staff going through treatment to email the cover supervisor or PA when they need the time, copying the headteacher into the message. Ensure that the person they are reporting to knows to avoid asking personal questions and requesting further information for the absence. It should be the decision of the member of staff going through the treatment to go into details if they wish.
3. Remember that infertility is an illness.
If a member of staff was receiving treatment for another disease they probably wouldn’t be in work at all. Do what you can to support your staff through this harrowing time.
Your employee is choosing to come to work, so support them in their decision: have a discussion about what would make the next 3-8 weeks easier for them. Flexible working conditions including the scrapping of the absence request forms need to be taken into account.
Women account for 75.8% of the teachers in schools around the UK. Research indicates that although fertility treatment affects both men and women that work needs to be done ‘to improve the current gender disadvantage for employed women having treatment’.
When employers support female staff through fertility treatment they are backing women’s desires to have both a career and a family. They are, therefore, empowering women to succeed by actively closing the gender gap.
Reach out to Fertility Issues in Teaching for more information on how you can support your teaching staff through fertility treatment.