Staff at one of the country's largest supermarket chains are to receive paid leave for fertility treatment in a major shakeup of company policy.

The Co-op, which employs 60,000 people nationally, announced that the policy will allow staff to take paid time off to attend appointments, undergo fertility treatment, and allow partners to accompany those receiving treatment.

The move follows other large companies like NatWest and Centrica in launching similar policies and comes amid an endorsement of the initiative by charities Fertility Matters at Work and Surrogacy UK.

The Co-op also has policies for those who face pregnancy loss and parental bereavement.

Co-op's chief executive, Shirine 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.

Bournemouth Echo: Co-op/PA - Co-op's 60,000 staff now benefit from the new measureCo-op/PA - Co-op's 60,000 staff now benefit from the new measure (Image: Co-op/PA)

“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 in launching a fertility policy and supporting our colleagues at a time when they need it most.”

Caroline Nokes MP, chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, added: “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.”

Who is eligible for the Co-op's paid leave for fertility treatment?

Co-op staff who are undergoing or supporting their partner can take paid leave to go to appointments and treatments, including those using a surrogate.

It does not matter how long an employee has worked at the company or how many hours they work.

How many days of paid leave are eligible staff allowed?

The time is flexible and unrestrictive as it is hard to determine what people will need. However, partners will have up 10 days of paid leave for appointments per cycle, for up to three cycles.