How managers can support employees going through fertility treatment

Despite fertility challenges being fairly common – approximately 1 in 6 of all couples are affected¹ – it’s still a subject that isn’t widely discussed, especially in the workplace. As a line manager, you may feel uncomfortable about the idea of talking to a direct report about these issues or may feel that you’re not best-placed to have such a conversation.

While you’re not a medical expert or counsellor – and no-one expects you to be – you can make the world of difference. From being proactive with suggestions of flexible working to knowing about and signposting to relevant policies and simply just listening, you can offer invaluable support.

We’ve listed below some of the practical ways you can support colleagues that are experiencing fertility challenges.

Statutory requirements

Some areas of fertility – such as surrogacy, adoption and paternity – give employees statutory rights. These are usually things such as leave and pay that the employee is entitled to by law. This statutory regulation is quite detailed and not something you would be expected to know. Work with your HR department or line manager if you need to find out more.

There is currently no UK law that covers fertility treatment, so companies don’t have to give employees time off for fertility treatments. With regard to time off work for IVF related sickness, again there is no legal right for the employee to take this, however ACAS advises² that as a minimum employers should treat time off for fertility treatment in in the same way as any other medical appointment. In addition, employers should treat any sickness due to the side effects of IVF, in the same way as any other sick leave.

If your company offers support above and beyond the statutory minimum, such as paid time off, you should be aware of where to find this information. It’s likely to be in a company policy, e.g. a fertility, mental health, SSP or pregnancy loss policy.

In some companies, frequent sickness can trigger standard procedures such as disciplinaries. If this is the case, flag it with your direct report to ensure their time off is recorded as part of their fertility journey.

Flexible working

Fertility journeys can be unpredictable and often involve multiple appointments and treatments that can leave them feeling unwell. Letting your direct report know that you can help support them using various ways of flexible working, e.g. letting them make up time for appointments that occur within core hours or working from home on days where appointments or treatments occur, can be an enormous weight off their mind.

Counselling

90% of fertility patients report feelings of depression and 42% have felt suicidal³. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that counselling should be offered before, during and after IVF treatment regardless of the outcome. Make sure the employee knows about any support your company offers, e.g. via an EAP provider, Parent Cloud, Wellness Cloud, Mental Health First Aiders or mental health policy, if your company has one.

Bereavement

Sadly, bereavement – the loss of a baby – is sometimes part of a fertility journey. While the employee understandably may not want to share this detail with you, it’s important that you’re sensitive to this. Let them know about any bereavement services or policies offered, e.g. bereavement counselling, or a pregnancy loss policy that may detail the support that can be given.

Career planning

While some employees may wish to temporarily move to a less stressful position with a view to getting back on track at a later date, some may wish to pursue any career ambitions at the same time as going through their fertility journey.

Financial help

Fertility treatment outside of the NHS is expensive. If the employee isn’t eligible for NHS treatment, a cycle of IVF at a private clinic can cost up to £5,000 or more⁴. While you would never want to directly ask about the employee’s financial situation, it can be helpful to ensure they’re aware of any financial help/support available such as access to low interest loans, salary advances or financial support offered.

Quiet rooms

Some fertility medicines can cause unwanted side effect such as nausea and vomiting. If your company has an area or room where they can go if they feel these effects, let the employee know as it can help ensure they feel more comfortable in the office environment.

  1. Fertility Network UK: https://fertilitynetworkuk.org/trying-to-conceive/fertility-at-work/
  2. https://www.acas.org.uk/your-maternity-leave-pay-and-other-rights/having-ivf-treatment
  3. Fertility Network UK: https://fertilitynetworkuk.org/trying-to-conceive/fertility-at-work
  4. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/ivf