Why your company needs a fertility policy in place (and how to set one up)

January 9, 2022
Lizzie Hayes

Every day we're helping people through fertility treatments of all kinds and we've seen just how much fertility struggles can impact lives. It's crucial that companies have supportive workplace policies in place to help people through what can often be a very emotionally and physically challenging period.

The fertility treatment bill that Nickie Aiken has presented to parliament could mean that people have the right to take time off work for fertility treatment. There have been other important steps in the right direction, but this is just the start.

As an employer, it's important to think about how you can best support your team with the emotional, mental, and physical challenges that may come with fertility journeys.

From surrogacy to IVF treatment to egg freezing, going through fertility treatment, or supporting a partner through it, can be very difficult and can have an enormous emotional impact. Your employees will benefit hugely from the support you give them during this time and the employee wellbeing policies you have in place.

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Here's how to put a fertility policy in place, and why it's so important to have one

Start by outlining what your fertility policy might look like

Outlining your fertility policy is an important first step before you actually begin to write it and put it into place. We get it, knowing exactly where to start can feel overwhelming. Here are a few initial points to think about:

  • How much dedicated time off you can offer for fertility challenges or treatment.
  • Whether this time off is paid or unpaid leave.
  • What you define as fertility challenges or treatment (and how to be as inclusive as possible).
  • If the time off for fertility treatment is for the person going through treatment, or a partner supporting someone through treatment too.
  • How requests for time off will be managed.

Think about how much time off your employees will be entitled to

We've seen companies offer between 5-15 days of paid leave per year for fertility or reproductive health challenges – but we'd always recommend being as flexible as you possibly can be to make sure no fertility treatment or family forming journey is excluded from your policy.

You may also want to think about offering flexible working for fertility treatment too. For example, making it clear that people are allowed to leave work to attend appointments for fertility treatment throughout the day whilst going through treatment.

This is important because sometimes fertility treatment appointments can be very last minute and unexpected. Managing the logistical side of fertility treatment whilst working can be especially challenging when someone has little flexibility – studies have shown people see a need to ‘make the time back', often at weekends or evenings. 

Putting a dedicated fertility policy in place is crucial in creating a company culture where people feel comfortable talking to their manager or someone in HR about what they're going through. Opening up conversations around fertility can help people feel comfortable and confident in asking for extra support, instead of going through it alone. It also will help your employees feel secure in the fact that their career prospects won't be damaged because they've had to go down an alternative pathway to parenthood.

Once you have an outline of what you'd like your fertility treatment to look like and you've thought about time off, the next step is writing it.

Write your fertility policy and put it in action

Time to get into the specifics - here are some starting points to think about when you get to writing your fertility policy

1. Acknowledge and recognise the stress that can come with fertility challenges and treatment

Facing fertility challenges can be overwhelming and very isolating at times. Make sure your policy is written in a way that is empathetic to the stresses and challenges your team may be facing when undergoing treatment. This is important for creating a company culture where people feel safe to disclose their struggles and are able to make use of the support you are providing. Read our survey with Fertility Network UK that looked into the emotional and physical impact of going through fertility treatment.

2. Clearly outline how much leave can be taken and if this will be paid at full pay or partial pay

When writing your fertility policy, it's important not to be vague in what people are entitled to so it's as easy as possible to understand. Outline a clear and easy process that defines exactly how an employee should request to take fertility leave. Keep in mind that if someone is thinking about taking fertility leave, they're probably already feeling worried or stressed. Make things as easy as possible for them by writing your fertility policy in a straightforward way.

3. Make sure you've noted that the use of fertility leave will be fully confidential

This is unless the person going on fertility leave wants you to let their teammates know. This is an important conversation to have once someone has spoken to you about needing support for fertility treatment or any challenges they're having. It's an incredibly personal decision; sometimes people want their team to know, whereas other times people want to keep their fertility challenges private.

4. Outline the support available for those who are impacted by fertility or family forming challenges but may not be going through treatment themselves

Supporting a partner going through fertility treatment can be incredibly challenging too. Make sure partners are recognised in your policy and think about whether they will be eligible for the same amount of leave as someone going through treatment. From our experience, people want to be with their partner for all their appointments (and there can be a lot!) both for moral and practical support, and often need time off to support someone (or cope themselves) through pregnancy loss.

You will also need to consider how you will support team members who are using a surrogate to help build their family. If someone is using a surrogate, the prospective parents may want to be at the important appointments. Egg collections and embryo implantations are important milestones for the parents-to-be. Whatever you decide, make sure it's written in an inclusive, clear, and kind tone.

5. Be inclusive in the language you use in your policy

Make sure you're being as inclusive and understanding as possible to all the different types of fertility challenges. This includes being inclusive in the terms and language you use, as well as considering the pathways to parenthood of LGBTQ+ people, as well as heterosexual couples.

Here are some examples of how you can use inclusive language in your fertility policy and beyond:

  • Instead of mother or father > use the word parent
  • Instead of maternity or paternity leave > use the term parental leave
  • Instead of mother or father > use the terms primary caregiver or secondary caregiver
  • Instead of husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend > use partner or spouse
6. Once you've shared your policy with the wider company, invite people to provide feedback

It's important to be open when making changes to your fertility policy and acting on feedback, so it's as helpful as it possibly can be. Feedback can be given by organising a small focus group, an anonymous questionnaire or simply asking for feedback or input via email. Remember, this should be considered a working document. As you learn how to be a more inclusive employer, your reproductive health policies should develop too.

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Other things to consider

You should also consider any practical support you can offer. This could include paying for fertility health assessments (for example through us at Fertifa) or helping with financing towards fertility treatment. Some companies offer counselling or therapy too.

We'd also strongly recommend offering training for both line managers and your HR team on how to use the above policy, so there's no confusion if someone comes to them for support. Assigning someone in your team as a ‘Fertility Officer', so that there's a dedicated person in the HR team who people can speak to for support or questions, can be helpful too.

A fertility policy is crucial in creating an inclusive workplace where people feel supported

Investing in polices and wellbeing support for fertility and family forming will show your genuine commitment to caring for the people who work for you. It can help create a supportive and inclusive environment where people genuinely want to work and don't feel worried about what others might say if they're struggling.

Fertility challenges, reproductive health issues, and family forming struggles can impact anyone and everyone – no matter their age, gender, sexual orientation, relationship status or background.

40% of all fertility issues are due to male fertility issues and 1 in 6 couples in the UK (that's 3.5 million people) will need some form of support to form their family. On top of that, nearly all LGBTQ+ families will need some advice and support to grow their family, and most single people who want to become parents will do too. A fertility policy that considers all the many ways people start families, is crucial to an inclusive workplace.

Going through fertility treatment or reproductive health challenges can have a big impact on productivity, motivation, and attendance at work. 90% of people who experience fertility issues said they'd change jobs to a company that offers fertility benefits, whilst 88% of those who feel unsupported at work said they would leave or think of leaving.

By investing in a fertility policy, you'll see an increase in productivity and more people wanting to stay in their jobs. Most of all, it'll help your team to feel supported and cared for at work – where we spend a lot of our time.

We're here if you need anything

We'd love to help you put a fertility policy in place at your company, whether it's providing you with a policy template or helping to review your existing policy. Every company is different in culture, size and approach. There's no one-size-fits-all and we'd be glad to share what we've seen as best practices within your sector or across industries that are relevant to you.

A huge part of our mission is in making fertility treatment more accessible – It's something very close to our hearts. Get in touch today to find out more about how this could work for you 💜

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At Fertifa, we recognise that reproductive healthcare looks different for everyone. Here's how we're building inclusive workplaces, for us at Fertifa and for our clients too.
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