Co-op Provide Time Off for Fertility Treatment

Staff at the Co-op will be able to take paid time off for fertility treatments, under a new policy launched by the retailer.

The policy will provide paid leave for staff to attend medical appointments while undergoing fertility treatment, including people using a surrogate. The time off is flexible and unrestricted, as the company cannot assume to know what people will need. The measures also extend to partners who accompany those going to appointments for fertility treatment, with paid leave for up to 10 appointments per cycle, and for up to three cycles of fertility treatment.

It follows several large UK companies, such as NatWest and Centrica, launching similar fertility policies last year. NatWest introduced employee discounts for treatments including IVF and sperm freezing, while Centrica partnered with a reproductive healthcare benefits provider.

There is currently no legal right for employees to take paid leave for fertility treatment in the same way that there is for antenatal appointments, such as scans and health checks. But employers should treat IVF appointments and any related sickness the same as any other medical appointment or sickness. In Sahota v Home Office [2009], the EAT asserted any dismissal of a sick pregnant employee is sex discrimination. However, an employee is not deemed to be pregnant until when her eggs are harvested and fertilised prior to the embryo being transferred into her uterus, the protected period therefore begins shortly before the embryo is placed into the woman’s womb, as asserted by the ECJ in Mayr v Bäckerei und Konditorei Gerhard Flöckner OHG [2008].

The launch of the policy has been met with support from the charities Fertility Matters at Work and Surrogacy UK, who assert that there is a need for more inclusive and supportive professional environments.

Many of the UK’s ‘family-friendly’ employee rights were implemented from EU legislation, mainly in 1990’s. Post-Brexit, there is clear concern that with no new EU-led employee protections being implemented, the UK workforce could be left behind EU Member States. However, the time off for fertility treatment evidences that larger UK firms are leading the way to provide additional worker rights. The concern, however, is that smaller firms will not be willing to provide such rights, where no statute provides such rights. To fully promote the right, the UK Government would need to follow the lead of these firms and codify the right into statute.

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