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IVF bill crucial step for championing women's reproductive health

A private member's bill to introduce a legal right for women to seek time off for fertility treatment could be a watershed moment for women's rights in the UK.

The bill, introduced by MP Nickie Aiken, would also seek to protect women from any discrimination they may face in the workplace when pursuing fertility treatments such as IVF.

Fertility and the workplace:

Supporting staff undergoing IVF

Hot topic: Fertility benefits

Hot topic: Fertility benefits, part two

Geeta Nargund, medical director at IVF provider Create Fertility, said a lack of support has discouraged women from speaking up about their fertility issues. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Infertility is defined as a disease by the World Health Organisation and affects 15% of couples of reproductive-age, yet fertility treatments are still seen as a lifestyle choice, including by workplace policies - this is unacceptable.

"Denying women the support and protection they need with their reproductive needs has discouraged them from speaking up through fear of career detriment. Despite recent efforts to tackle gender equality, the sad reality is that women still face a gender health gap, not least in their places of work."

Nargund said that employers have a responsibility to support any staff going through IVF treatment.

She added: "IVF treatment can be a stressful process with many stages, and the burden of treatment can be both emotionally and physically taxing for women. It is imperative that employers provide appropriate support for employees going through this process: the fact that women are having to use their annual leave to attend appointments is simply unacceptable.

"Not only would the Bill make a practical difference to women trying to juggle work and an arduous medical process, but it will have a ripple effect on workplace culture and employers’ approach to reproductive health."

Helen O'Neil, founder of fertility testing service Hertility, told HR magazine that putting fertility support into law was vital.

She said: "Introducing a legal right for fertility-related medical appointments is a crucial step to tackling the current stigma in the workplace that surrounds going through fertility treatment, enabling people to be transparent with their employers about going through treatment without feeling that they will be held at a disadvantage.

"With more companies including IVF treatment as part of their benefits programmes, the legal protection of individuals going through treatment by government policies is of the utmost importance."

Insurance firm Zurixh UK introduced a family friendly policy for its workers. This encompassed additional leave for parents of premature babies, as well as IVF and miscarriage support.

Steve Collinson, chief HR officer at Zurich UK, told HR magazine: “We know from listening to our employees that going through fertility treatment can be emotionally and physically gruelling. Especially so when trying to balance the demands of work."

As well as being the morally right thing to do, he said the policy has had a positive effect on employee engagement.

“Everybody should have the right to grow their family if they choose to – it shouldn’t be a barrier to a fulfilling career," he added.

"As well as providing time off for appointments, we’re a flexible working employer which enables people to manage a whole range of commitments outside of work. Our approach also helps us to attract new recruits, as well as holding onto our talented workforce.”