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Employees' rights during IVF treatment

Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) is a process of fertilisation which happens outside a women's body to help her become pregnant if there are fertility problems. It can typically take between 4 and 7 weeks for one cycle of IVF treatment. IVF does not always result in a pregnancy.

Key points

  • There is no statutory right for employees to take time off work to undergo IVF investigations or treatment.

  • In the last part of an IVF process, fertilised eggs are placed inside the woman's body. This step is called embryo transfer. If one of the eggs attaches itself inside her body, this is called implantation and she is regarded as pregnant. She should tell her employer once she has reached this stage. She will then need to wait two weeks to take a pregnancy test.

  • On implantation she is protected against unfair treatment because of pregnancy and maternity. And if the pregnancy test is positive, she continues to be covered during her pregnancy and until her maternity leave ends, or she returns to work or opts to leave employment. This protection is called the protected period. To find out more about the protected period, see Acas guide pdf icon Pregnancy and maternity discrimination: key points for the workplace [511kb].
  • If the pregnancy test is negative, the protected period ends 2 weeks after she has been told that implantation has proved unsuccessful.

Protection against unfair treatment

Although there is no statutory right for employees to take time off work for IVF treatment, employers should treat medical appointments related to IVF the same as any other medical appointment under the terms and conditions of the contract of employment. Employers may agree to flexible working arrangements or a combination of paid, unpaid, or annual leave during the treatment.

Sometimes employees may not be able to work because of the effects of IVF treatment. In many cases, they will be given a fit note from their GP saying that they are sick. In other circumstances they may self-certificate their absence for up to 7 days.

Where absences during the 'protected period' result from the effects of IVF treatment, employers:

  • must not count the absences as part of something that triggers an absence management process
  • must not use them for disciplinary purposes
  • should keep records of these absences separate from other type of absence.

To find out more about managing absence during pregnancy see the Acas guide pdf icon Pregnancy and maternity discrimination: key points for the workplace [511kb].

Also, a woman on sick leave during IVF treatment might claim sex discrimination if treated unfairly.

Further, it is important to understand that once the protected period ends, it can still be unlawful to treat the employee unfairly because of her pregnancy, maternity or breastfeeding. This might be because the unfair treatment stems from a decision taken during the protected period. Or, she might claim sex discrimination.