How to support employees experiencing fertility issues

Kate Palmer from HR experts Peninsula explains how employers can best support employees going through fertility treatment.

Image of egg being fertilised by sperm on a needle


According to the NHS website, one in seven couples may struggle to conceive a child, and when an employee is experiencing fertility issues this can take an emotional and physical toll on them. Managing their work and day-to-day life may become more of a challenge.

Your staff member might decide that fertility treatment is the best option for them, whether they are trying to get pregnant alone or with a partner. But this can be a long and difficult road.

Employers may not be able to take away the difficulties that fertility issues can bring, but they can help to support staff on their journey. For example, they could…

Create a fertility policy

By law, businesses are not required to have a fertility policy or specific support measures in place for those going through fertility treatment. However, having a policy and procedures in place can help to create a more supportive and inclusive workplace overall.

A policy also gives clarity to staff who are experiencing fertility issues and helps to raise awareness. In any policy, employers may want to:

  • Set out a worker’s rights and any financial support available if they are having fertility treatment. This may include paid time off to attend appointments.
  • Outline the support options on offer. Employers should include details of an employee assistance programme if they have one, or their flexible working options.
  • Signpost external organisations that offer support. Employers should point staff in the direction of organisations that can offer them support. This might involve telling them about local support groups and specialist counselling.

Sign up to the Fertility Workplace Pledge

Another way that employers can show support is by voluntarily signing up to the Fertility Workplace Pledge. This initiative was set up to support individuals and couples undergoing fertility treatment, and to help tackle the stigma around fertility issues.

By committing to this pledge, employers show that they support employees’ (or their partner’s) decision to have treatment and that they don’t need to worry about this having a negative impact on their position at work.

As part of the pledge, employers should take steps to create a supportive environment for their employees. Staff should feel comfortable to open up about their experiences, knowing that their workplace is a safe space for them. Employers may want to nominate fertility ambassadors to give staff a point of contact if they need further support and information.

Provide training to line managers

Line managers should be aware of the emotional and physical challenges that their staff might be facing. Finding out that you cannot conceive naturally is a devastating loss for many and being able to support employees during such a difficult time is essential. Offering specific training for them in this area can help them to take the right steps to help staff feel more comfortable at work. Line managers may want to have a list of organisations on hand, so they can point employees in the right direction for external support. They can also remind staff of their own internal wellbeing support options if they have any.

Allow time off for fertility treatment

Employees don’t have a statutory right to take time off work to attend fertility or IVF appointments. But if they are – or their partner is – having treatment, appointments for these are likely to be during working hours. Employers should try to accommodate this as much as possible.

Best practice for employers is to treat fertility appointments the same as other medical appointments. If staff need more time off for treatment, employers could allow them to take this as paid or unpaid leave. Alternatively, employers may ask staff to take time out of their annual leave. Compassionate leave could also be offered.

Make workplace adjustments

Legally, staff have protection against pregnancy discrimination from the moment they tell their employer until the end of their maternity leave. Or from two weeks after the pregnancy ends if they’re not entitled to maternity leave.

If employees fall pregnant through IVF, they have the same pregnancy and maternity rights by law. Their pregnancy rights will start from the moment of embryo implantation. If the IVF fails, then employees will still have temporary legal protection for at least two weeks after finding out that the implantation was unsuccessful.

To avoid pregnancy discrimination, employers will need to take steps to remove any disadvantages to employees and make sure employees don’t receive unfair treatment. Any adjustments required will be very individual, so employers should sit down with their employees to find out what they can do to support them at work.

This might include allowing staff to take regular and longer breaks. It might also mean setting up a private space for them so that they have somewhere to take sensitive and important phone calls.

Offer flexible working

Flexible working can be useful when staff might not be feeling well enough to be at work or when they have appointments during work hours.

Flexible working could mean allowing staff to:

  • Adjust their working hours, maybe around appointments;
  • Reduce their hours, to help them to get rest and time to manage treatment around work;
  • Work from home, which makes it easier on days when they are not feeling well;
  • Job share, so they can split responsibilities with a colleague.

Currently, employees have the right to ask for flexible working after 26 weeks of continuous service and so if an employee requests flexible working, employees should follow the statutory process for this. At some point in the next year it seems likely that flexible working requests will become a day one right. If flexible working is something the employer offers or wants to offer, they need to set this out in a written policy.

Put an end to fertility stigma

The more businesses can do to support employees, the more they help to tackle any stigma around fertility issues and empower their staff to make the decisions that are right for them. By helping staff throughout their fertility journey, they can help create a more inclusive and open workspace for everyone.

*Kate Palmer is HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, which provides HR and health & safety support for small businesses.

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