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Fertility treatment and sick pay

The latest figures published by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority show there were 54,000 patients receiving fertility treatment in the UK.  There has also been a growth in the numbers of single women and same sex couples who are also receiving it.  A question which often arises for employers is should any employees who are receiving this type of medical treatment be entitled to sick pay?

Fertility treatment can be a long and arduous process with different effects on different people, however it is not of itself incapacity for sick pay purposes.  The treatment can make a person ill both physically and or mentally as it can be very stressful, and for these reasons they might be signed off by their doctor. In those circumstances the employer must treat this as sickness absence and ensure the employee receives statutory and any contractual sick pay in accordance with its normal rules.

There are currently no statutory rights for an employee to receive time off with or without pay to undertake a course of fertility treatment. It is important to note that from an employment rights perspective, a woman undergoing IVF is deemed to be pregnant from the point of implantation and it usually takes up to two weeks after this process to determine if the implantation has been successful. Employees are protected from the point of implantation from pregnancy and maternity discrimination and have the right to time off for antenatal care.

Employers should make it clear in their employment policies and employment contracts whether they offer contractual sick pay and if so what the terms of this are. It is recommended that there is a separate sickness policy, which includes specific scenarios such as fertility treatment.  This will then offer a clear policy and manage expectations as to if and how much contractual sick pay is payable to the employee.

Around 78% of women in the UK aged 25-54 are in the workforce and the majority of employers spend a lot of time and money hoping to attract and retain the best staff in their businesses. It is worth employers considering the broader message they send to an employee and others in the workforce if they are not supportive to individual needs of their staff.