Staff at the Co-op will be able to take paid time off for fertility treatments, under a new policy launched by the retailer.
Co-op’s chief executive, Shirine Khoury-Haq, said she has gone through the process of fertility treatment herself and wants to create a supportive environment for her employees.
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 Co-op said.
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.
The Co-op, which employs about 60,000 people, said anyone can access the paid support and it does not matter how long they have worked at the Co-op or how many hours they work.
It follows a number of 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, according to Acas.
The launch has been met with support from the charities Fertility Matters at Work and Surrogacy UK, who argue that there is a need for more inclusive and supportive professional environments.
Khoury-Haq said: “It is incredibly difficult to navigate through fertility treatment while balancing work and the wider impact it has on your life.
“Sadly, in some cases, there is also the need to manage the physical and emotional impact of failed cycles and even pregnancy loss.
“The decision to discuss this with your employer is an incredibly difficult and personal one. However, by creating a supportive environment companies can go a long way in opening the conversation with colleagues and easing the stress that people in this situation often feel.
“Having gone through all of this myself, I felt very lucky to be in a supportive professional environment; however, this isn’t always the case for so many people.
“I feel very proud that the Co-op is leading the way on launching a fertility policy and supporting our colleagues at a time when they need it most.”
The Co-op has an existing policy that means employees affected by pregnancy loss are eligible for full paid leave if they cannot access either maternity or parental bereavement leave.
MP Caroline Nokes, the chair of the women and equalities select committee, said: “I really welcome the Co-op’s leading response to fertility support for employees.
“We all recognise the pressures placed on families and individuals going through fertility treatment, and time off to support partners is such an important step forward.
“But, crucially, we still talk too little about these sorts of issues and I hope the Co-op is also able to create the inclusive and supportive environment that is so desperately needed.”