Fertility in the Workplace: An Employers Action Plan
Fertility in the Workplace: An Action Plan for Employers & Managers
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Fertility in the Workplace: An Action Plan for Employers & Managers

Why is Fertility in the Workplace an Issue?

Around 1 in 6 couples in the UK will have difficulties conceiving, which means it’s likely that at least 16% of the workforce are impacted by fertility issues. Most will not want to tell employers or colleagues about this, and many never even share this with their family and friends.  Although at some point their struggles may affect, or be affected by their work. So, it’s important that we understand their journey…

Surprisingly, despite the World Health Organisation classifying infertility as a disease of the reproductive system, fertility treatment in the UK isn’t viewed to be a necessary medical treatment. There is no legal right to time off work for fertility appointments or to accommodate injections or sample collections.

The road to achieving a successful pregnancy is often complex and misunderstood.  Firstly, couples will have had to ‘try’ to conceive naturally for at least a year before they can access any investigations or treatment. Same sex couples, single people and trans people also have a number of hurdles to overcome before they can be considered for assisted conception. Treatment on the NHS varies considerably depending upon the health authority policy in an area.  For example, some will provide up to three rounds of IVF treatment, where in others there will only be one round.  Going private is around £10,000 each time.

Once investigations and treatments begin, there are likely to be many appointments, and a need to take medication, injections and collect samples at very specific times.  Sometimes treatment can lead to significant side effects or serious complications. It’s only once a pregnancy is confirmed that statutory rights kick in but these disappear after two weeks following a pregnancy loss.

The physical, emotional, mental, time and financial investment of assisted conception can be exhausting, and 68% of those undergoing fertility treatment feel that their mental wellbeing has been impacted.  With little clear support for fertility in the workplace, over two thirds of respondents to the Fertility Network’s 2021 survey did not tell their employer about their treatment and over a third considered leaving their jobs.

Men also struggle with the pressures of investigations, treatments and loss.  There can also be a high embarrassment factor for many men about the need for time off to provide samples.  Same sex couples, single people and trans people also experience all of these difficulties in their own unique situations.

Surrogacy and artificial insemination aren’t covered by the NHS and come with complex emotional and legal issues to be navigated.

What can Employers do to Support?
Develop a Fertility Policy

A good starting point would be to develop a Fertility Policy which demonstrates to employees that an employer understands these issues and will be supportive.  Fertility is sometimes included in Maternity Policies, however this can feel inappropriate and may be better positioned as a wellbeing issue alongside menopause, mental health etc.

You can download a sample fertility in the workplace policy for free here.

Support your Policy Launch with Training

Ideally the policy should be supported by awareness training for HR teams, line managers and employees which will help understanding of this being a health issue and how those experiencing this are affected in their day to day life and at work.

Be Sensitive

You might also want to consider the sensitivities of those experiencing fertility challenges when new parents pop into the workplace with their children and perhaps arrange for these visits to only take place on certain days of the week or at prescribed times.

Be Flexible & Pledge your Support

Enabling flexibility and time off is crucial. Whilst many employers might not be able to match the legal entitlements in Malta (100 hours of fully paid leave per couple per cycle), most should be able to make some reasonable provision for time off and flexibility.

Organisations can also sign up to the Fertility in the Workplace Pledge where employers can pledge to work towards providing; accessible information, awareness in the workplace, staff training and flexible working.

From January 2023 BUPA and Aviva are going to be offering fertility treatment cover as an optional extension to large group medical insurance policies, however this may be too expensive for many employers to cover all employees. Because of the rise in infertility, some organisations have gone as far as paying for fertility treatment for their top performers in an effort to retain talent.

What can Managers do?
  • Be flexible. Treatments vary and are very individual and can be changed at short notice so find out what the employee needs and do what you reasonably can to accommodate this.
  • Be supportive. Check in regularly with the employee, try to reassure them about work and make sure they are reminded of any other support available through EAP etc or signpost them to external agencies.
  • Remember that partners and other family members can be affected by the impacts of assisted conception on their loved ones and may need your support.
  • Be conscious of the enormity of what the employee is experiencing and avoid downplaying unsuccessful experiences.
  • Handle any discussions sensitively and confidentially.
  • Remember that pregnancy rights begin as soon as fertilised eggs have been implanted. If this is not successful, the pregnancy rights end two weeks after the negative test result but support for that employee, in any way feasible, can and should extend beyond that, showing support and compassion for the individual and the experience they have had.

If you are working towards improving the support you can provide regarding fertility in the workplace, here are some additional links you might find helpful. And of course the Vista team are always here to support these discussions.



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Diversity and Inclusion Employee Relations

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