COVID-19 and the rise of remote working has brought the workplace into our homes - and the additional strain of working through a pandemic has often brought our personal lives into the workplace. As the professional/personal divide becomes increasingly blurred, many employers are looking at how they can support their staff during times of personal difficulty or crisis - and how reduce the stigma surrounding these issues.
One area which employers are focusing on is infertility and pregnancy loss. 1 in 6 couples trying to conceive experiences fertility problems, while 1 in 4 pregnancies will result in a miscarriage. It follows that most employers will have staff affected by these issues. But relatively few employers have specific policies covering these situations. In the absence of a specific policy, employees can be left unsure about their rights to time off for medical appointments or where their symptoms make them unable to work, as well as not knowing how to access support. It's a good idea to have a policy in place - and in fact Howard Kennedy has recently introduced such policies and signed the Miscarriage Association's Pregnancy Loss Pledge.
Some issues for employers to consider when developing their own policies:
1. Healthcare costs: Most private medical insurance schemes don't cover fertility treatment or costs related to pregnancy. The costs of fertility treatment can be prohibitive for many families, particularly if surgery or several rounds of IVF are required. As a result, some employers contribute towards the costs - this is increasingly common in the US and has started to become more widespread in the UK and Europe. However, the costs can be significant and there may be discrimination issues. For example, offering payment towards three rounds of IVF treatment only may arguably discriminate against single-sex couples who would be unable to conceive without treatment. Although the employer might well be able to justify limiting its contribution, it highlights the need to think through how benefits can be provided in a fair and inclusive way.
Employees may be concerned about disclosing a miscarriage or fertility treatment to their manager. Having specific policies in place may encourage staff to be more open, by reassuring them that they will be treated fairly and supportively. But the policy should include the option of disclosing the issue only to HR so that paid leave and time off for medical appointments can be properly recorded.
3. Paid leave
Many organisations now offer paid time off for fertility treatment or to recover from a miscarriage, as well as paid time off to attend relevant medical appointments. Employers may also want to offer paid time off to employees whose partner has experienced a miscarriage or is undergoing fertility treatment - typically partners are offered less paid time off, but this is a question of discretion.
Employees who suffer a stillbirth (after 24 weeks) or whose baby is born alive but dies shortly afterwards are entitled to maternity leave and pay, so this should be spelt out in the policy.
Even employers which cannot offer much in the way of financial support or paid time off can help employees enormously by signposting them to sources of support, such as the Miscarriage Association or the Fertility Network. Contact details should be included in the policy.