Fertility In The Workplace – What Employees Need To Know

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For any of us who have had to manage our emotions following a fertility issue diagnosis alongside everything that comes with assisted conception treatment as well as a job, the news that Fertility Network UK has launched a Fertility in the Workplace initiative to support employers and employees will come as welcome news.

Speaking at the launch of Fertility Network’s Fertility in the Workplace initiative, chief executive Aileen Feeney said:

“Fertility treatment is on the increase with approaching 68,000 treatment cycles carried out every year in the UK and 1 in 6 couples (3.5 million people) affected, yet the majority of employers do not have a workplace policy providing the vital support employees going through fertility treatment need.”

What Does This Mean For Me?

Put simply, employers have a duty of care to their employees, especially when it comes to health issues.  This is worth knowing!

But Is Fertility A Health Issue?

For those of us who are either experiencing the numerous and multi-faceted challenges that fertility issues bring or are undergoing the physical and emotional rollercoaster that is any kind of assisted conception treatment, the answer will be a resounding yes!  It’s important to note that the World Health Organisation class infertility as an illness. Fertility treatment is therefore the recommended medical treatment for this type of illness.

However in the UK, we do not have a statutory right to request time off or flexible working hours when undergoing fertility treatment, like we do for pre-natal and post-natal care.

Why The Need For A Workplace Fertility Policy

You may not feel able to tell your boss when you are facing fertility challenges, or who do but you are faced with using holiday or having to take unpaid leave as you negotiate the fertility obstacle course.

The aim of this Fertility Initiative is double-layered:  to ensure that employees are treated fairly with understanding, empathy and support given and with no damage to their career, and to provide a framework for employers so their business can implement a fertility in the workplace policy. 

Although anyone who lives with endometriosis and other fertility issues knows the huge impact these can have on your wellbeing and ability to work, this initiative is focused on the impact of IVF and assisted conception. It can be huge and wide-ranging. For anyone who has gone through IVF, you will know all about the multiple appointments, some of which often need to be arranged or rescheduled at the last minute, and the anxiety that comes with it.  A conflict can arise between your work demands and the physical, emotional and time-associated demands of fertility treatment.  Help and support in managing this conflict is essential; flexibility and understanding of your needs is vital.

To break this down, we typically require around six to eight flexible days at work, this includes appointments for a variety of consultations, tests and scans, egg collection and transfer. Men also need to attend appointments for tests and sample collection and should ideally be there to support their partner or surrogate for more invasive pre-treatment procedures, egg collection and transfer.

Workplace Fertility Research Results

  • 26% of people having IVF reported their workplace had some policy relating to assisted conception
  • 58% said their employer did not have any such fertility-related policy
  • 19% were not sure.  
  • The lack of a fertility workplace policy was also associated with increased levels of emotional distress
  • 50% of people were worried that treatment would adversely affect their career prospects
  • 35% felt their career was damaged as a result of fertility treatment
  • 13% of people reduced their work hours
  • 6% left their job due to their treatment.

Some employers viewed IVF as an optional medical treatment so there was no fertility workplace policy in place. But this is changing.

If you are an employee preparing to undergo IVF, seek support and advice from Fertility Network UK and their new workplace initiative if you don’t feel comfortable broaching this on your own.  Further support and advice can be found at https://fertilitynetwork.org.

Fertility Network have also put together an honest and informative video which can be found here.

Part 2 of this blog on what you need to know as an employer can be found here:

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