Infertility can affect every aspect of your life, your friendships, relationships and family life. But the impact on your day-to-day job can be enormous.
In this article, we look at fertility in the workplace, exploring what you’re entitled to, and offering advice as to how to juggle both work and fertility treatment.
Thankfully, the new normal of working from home, or at least more flexible working, has certainly made undergoing fertility treatment whilst working, a little easier to navigate, but even so, the idea of having to speak to your line manager and explain why you can’t attend that important meeting, adds a whole new layer of complexity to something that is already highly emotionally charged. And then there’s the fear of discrimination if your treatment is successful.
Our team often get asked about how best to manage work and IVF, and some of the questions we receive include:
In this article we’re exploring the subject of fertility in the workplace, looking at what you’re entitled to, and offering advice as to how to juggle both work and fertility treatment.
According to ACAS, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, there is no legal right to time off work for IVF treatment or related sickness. But your employer should treat your IVF appointments and any sickness the same as any other medical appointment or sickness. You can check your contract for this.
You could talk with your employer about any time off you need during your IVF treatment. They might agree to you using flexible working, paid time off, unpaid time off or holiday.
Similarly, if you are written off sick by your doctor, due to the side effects of IVF, your employer should treat your absence as no different to any other sick leave taken not in conjunction with IVF.
You have pregnancy rights once you’ve had the last part of the IVF process, the embryo transfer, and might become pregnant. You do not have to tell your employer at this stage, but you might find it helpful as they could offer support.
If your employer knows you might be pregnant, you’re protected against unfair dismissal and unfair treatment related to your possible pregnancy.
It’s worth knowing that under the Employment Statutory Code of Practice:
Guidance on employees’ rights when undergoing IVF is set out in the EHRC’s Employment Statutory Code of Practice, stating that:
(a) In responding to requests for time off from a woman undergoing IVF, an employer must not treat her less favourably than they treat, or would treat, a man in a similar situation – doing so could amount to sex discrimination.
(b) After an embryo has been implanted, a woman is legally pregnant and entitled to protection from unfavourable treatment and time off for antenatal care (which can include appointments in relation to the IVF treatment).
(c) It is good practice for employers to treat any request for time off for IVF treatment sympathetically and consider adopting a procedure for dealing with such requests, perhaps including allowing women to take annual leave or unpaid leave in order to receive treatment.
Every patient is different, so before you start your treatment, we will always try and help you with an approximate plan of how long your IVF cycle takes, although this will always be an approximation.
You can expect anything between 4 and 8 scan appointments, and it’s always worth allocating an hour as you may need a blood test and a new prescription.
You will be able to pre-book your first 1 or 2 scans before you start injections, and we will always try to be as accommodating as possible.
Please bear in mind that ideally your scans and any blood tests you may need, will always have to be before 1pm, this is so we can ensure the blood test results are back from the lab and we have time to discuss your plan in our daily patient review meeting, before calling you that evening with any possible changes to your treatment plan.
You will get advance warning of any longer periods you will be expected to be in the clinic – e.g.: egg collection, and you can expect to know roughly what day this will be around 5 days before, depending on how your follicles are responding to the stimulation drugs.
Expect to take a full day off work for your egg collection. You will be sedated during this procedure and therefore will need someone to collect you from the centre and help you get home. Most patients go back to their normal routines the next day, but it’s important you give your body time to rest and recover from this procedure.
Some patients prefer to take the entire time off between egg collection and embryo transfer (if you’re not freezing your embryos), whereas some prefer the distraction of going back to their everyday lives.
When it comes to your embryo transfer, this is a quick procedure with the overall appointment not taking more than an hour. You can resume your normal life straight after, although you may want to take it easy – no heavy lifting etc. – until your pregnancy test, around two weeks later.
There may be a number of factors involved when considering telling your line manager you’re undergoing fertility treatment. These can range from job security through to personal privacy.
And while more women and men are choosing to open up about fertility treatment in the workplace, many still prefer to keep it private, and that’s OK. You can be as open or as private as you need to be.
However, giving yourself breathing space and taking one element of pressure off during such an emotional time, may be one less thing to worry about when it comes to focusing on your treatment, and getting the best possible outcome.
Taking the first step is always going to be the hardest conversation, but having a workable plan can help you feel calmer and more confident when you talk to your line manager.
Come up with some ideas about how you might make up for lost time if appointments run over; having a workable plan can help you feel calmer and more confident when you talk to your boss, as well as offer solutions workable to both parties.
It’s also worthwhile speaking to HR and asking if they have a fertility policy.
“My first IVF cycle I decided not to tell my boss. Not only was I concerned about career progression, but I had a high-pressure job in retail, with a lot of travel and I had to squeeze the IVF cycle in between work trips, adding more pressure and stress to an already emotional time in my life.
But when it came to the treatment, the anxiety of juggling early morning appointments and the fertility drug side effects, really affected me at work. I was emotional, exhausted, swollen and pre-occupied.
Sadly, that cycle didn’t work. And when I broke down in the office, I couldn’t tell anyone why.
So, when it came to my next cycle a few months later, thinking about what I could do to make my life easier, I decided to tell my boss. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so I got some advice from someone I trusted in HR first.
I was amazed to discover they offered two full days off for treatment, plus flexibility around any additional appointments. I then spoke to the nurses at my clinic we worked out a rough appointment schedule.
Having a plan helped me feel more in control of the situation and less emotional. And the conversation went a lot better than I had expected.
He was surprised (I don’t think anyone had been so open with him on something so personal before) but overall sympathetic and supportive. He suggested I emailed him with any appointments and then block time out in my diary when I was going to be out.
He absolutely respected my privacy, didn’t exactly go easy on me the whole time (!), but listened when I pushed back on project deadlines and asked if I needed any additional support.
This was why when I got to tell him I was pregnant a few months later, he had a few tears in his eyes and told me he had been wanting to ask how I got on but wasn’t sure how to.
Looking back, telling my boss I was having IVF treatment was absolutely the right thing to do. I was also fortunate to work for a progressive company that supported fertility treatment.
Not only did it take a huge amount of pressure off an already difficult situation, but it also helped open the conversation and allow other women to take advantage of the fertility treatment policy.”
Maybe the pandemic has created a trend towards supporting employees with both mental and physical health perks, or it’s fear of losing top talent, but either way, we’re living in progressive times and companies are starting to support their female employees more than ever before.
Examples of brands already leading the way, offering benefits or paid leave for fertility treatments, menopause and baby loss, include; ASOS, Kellogg’s, PWC, Natwest, Monzo and Publicis.
And some UK companies, such as Goldman Sachs, are even starting to follow the US example and offer fertility treatment, free emergency nannies and even couriers for breastfeeding mothers travelling for work, as an added incentive to join, as they struggle to find new recruits and keep top female talent.
Other companies, including Facebook, Google, Uber, Intel, eBay, Netflix, Spotify, Time Warner and Snapchat, are going one step further in the hope of attracting younger talent, and offering egg freezing – which comes with its own concerns that such a policy could be interpreted as a suggestion that one should delay having children, or even make employees considering having kids at an early career stage be fearful this may signal a lack of dedication to work.
Sadly, the reality of balancing fertility and work is rarely recognised and often misunderstood by employers and as a result, many people suffer in silence.
Becky, Claire and Natalie, aka Fertility Matters At Work, are dedicated to raising awareness of fertility issues in the workplace, educating companies of how it can affect both their employees and their organisation, the reality of IVF at work and what support that is needed.
The team have created an incredible set of resources (see here) including:
If you want to understand more about what you’re entitled to, or maybe you just want to understand how to have ‘that’ conversation with your boss, or maybe you’re an employer and you want to become more of a Fertility Friendly workplace, see here.
Law and guidance is changing regularly in this area. The information contained in this post does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. You are advised to obtain specific legal advice about your case or matter and not to rely solely on this information.