Employees going through fertility treatment have no rights at work.
They are not entitled to paid or even unpaid leave for fertility appointments.
Acas provide guidelines for employers to follow. None of which are helpful.
Acas encourage employers to treat IVF appointments like any other medical appointment
86% of teachers said that their Headteacher would treat IVF appointment like any other medical appointment. This is supportive as long as medical appointments aren’t capped.
One teacher told us that she is allowed 1 medical appointment per term, which really doesn’t cut the mustard for a woman going through through fertility treatment, who will need multiple appointments for scans and consultations, and at least 2 days for egg retrieval and embryo transfer.
Acas encourage employers to treat sickness associated with fertility treatment like any sickness
In 2020 the average amount of time taken off work was 3.6 days. This was largely due to ‘coughs and colds’.
In the academic year 2018/19 the absent rate was 4.1 days per teacher, and the most common reason for time off was minor illness.
Absence policies do not make allowances for fertility treatment, where the majority of patients trying to conceive via this route need at least 5 days of leave, often for separate absences.
Reasons teachers might not be able to come to work
There are multiple reasons an employee might not feel well enough to attend work during fertility treatment- both mentally and physically.
We asked our community of IVF teachers the reasons they were unable to come to work. The answers varied, and combined are:
- swollen ovaries,
- medication made me feel nauseous
- Severe OHSS
- soreness following egg collection
- failed embryo transfer
- fear of catching COVID and delaying treatment
- The thought of working with someone who is pregnant
- Day following transfer
- 7 week pregnancy scan
- Scan for silent missed miscarriage
- The two week wait
- Recovery from egg retrieval
Not every woman going through fertility treatment will experience the above IVF symptoms or outcomes, but it gives a concise idea of what employees are or could be going through.
It’s easy to see how employees taking the route of assisted conception will trigger a disciplinary investigation when most a staff member can be absent for in a 12 month period is 3 times.
This is why sickness related to assisted conception cannot be treated the same as other sickness.
Fertility treatment policy
A fertility treatment policy that is separate from the absence policy would be the first step towards making the work place more inclusive for those going through IVF.
This is not to say that a fertility treatment policy is a quick fix to colleagues feeling supported, as policies are often flawed. Even the best policy with inclusive language that considers the impact to partners of those having the medical intervention, and a minimum amount of permitted days to attend appointments will still need some room for flexibility.
A teacher who worked in a school with an IVF policy spoke to us. She called in sick following a failed embryo transfer after the ‘two week wait’. The following day she tried to return to work not wanting to let anyone down but was sent home at lunchtime as she was unable to stop the bleeding. This triggered an investigation hearing with her headteacher and HR where she found herself explaining the IVF process; this school had an IVF policy but didn’t have the correct foundations in place for this to function successfully.
Had a carefully planned IVF policy been in place alongside sensitive communication training for leadership this ordeal could have been avoided.
Asking for time off for fertility treatment is intimidating
The point leading up to the employee receiving confirmation that they may attend an appointment is an unsettled time. It’s dehumanising for an employee to expose their personal life to their employer. They’re asking permission to receive medical treatment to start a family; a privilege that the majority of the population don’t need to consider-dystopia at it’s finest.
The haziness around their rights at work leaves employees vulnerable at a time in life where they are already grieving and feeling lost now that their future path, and self, is unclear. Fertility treatment is stressful and all consuming.
Many women and men on this uncertain journey to parenthood experience PTSD and depression. Fertility treatment is emotionally, mentally, physically, financially and socially challenging. Unpredictability around how much time off will be permitted adds to this burden. It’s stressful to become the teacher who requires a lot of cover.
Many women connect with Fertility Issues in Teaching because they require support around approaching their employer- the thought of opening up to their employer debilitates them.
Why some teachers will take more time off than others
Taking more days off during IVF is associated with greater stress (FNUK and Middlesex University 2016). Consider endorsing the 3 points below to make the working day less stressful for teachers muddling through fertility treatment:
- sensitive communication strategies
- a practical IVF policy
- an understanding of why staff will struggle to be in school throughout their IVF cycle
Has this article given you the impetus to make change in your school to accommodate staff who are struggling to start a family of their own?