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

Every day we’re helping people through fertility treatments of all kinds and we’ve seen just how much they can impact lives. In this article, we'll look at the importance of putting a fertility policy in place, the positive impacts they can make on employee wellbeing, and offer some practical advice on how to draft one.

min read

Every day we help people through fertility treatments of all kinds. We've seen firsthand just how greatly fertility struggles can impact lives and believe it's crucial that companies have supportive workplace policies in place to help people through what can be a very emotional 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. And there have been other important steps made in the right direction, but this is very much still the start.

As an employer, it's important to think about how you can best support your team with the emotional, mental health 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 have an enormous emotional impact. Your employees can benefit hugely from the support you give them during this time and the employee wellbeing policies you have in place.

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 in place. But knowing exactly where to start can feel overwhelming. Here are a few initial points to think about:

  • How much dedicated time off for fertility challenges or treatment you can offer.
  • 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 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. For example, NHS-funded fertility treatments can come with extra delays and complications that might require employees to take more time off.

If you are considering IVF treatment through the NHS, make sure you're aware of the criteria you'll have to meet. As things stand, eligible people must:

  • Not have any children already, from both your current and any previous relationships
  • Be a healthy weight
  • Not smoke
  • Fall into a certain age range

If you're not sure whether you (or a partner) qualify as eligible people, you can check out this page on the NHS website or visit the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority website (the UK's independent regulator of fertility treatment and embryo research). 

Flexible working

You may also want to think about offering flexible working for fertility treatments too. For example, you may want to clarify that people are allowed to leave work to attend appointments for fertility treatments throughout the day.

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 in the evenings. 

The importance of open conversation

Putting a dedicated fertility policy in place is crucial to 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 can make use of the support you are providing.

To discover more about the effects of fertility challenges in the workplace, we decided to conduct a survey alongside Fertility Network UK that looked into the emotional and physical impacts of fertility treatment.

Fertifa and Fertility Network UK survey results:

  • 9 out of 10 people struggled with their mental health trying to balance fertility treatment with modern work life
  • 89% of respondents reported battling stress
  • 56% of those surveyed experienced a decrease in job satisfaction

For more statistics like these, be sure to check out our Fertility Network UK survey results article.

 2. Clearly outline how much leave can be taken and if this will be paid, partially paid of unpaid time off

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 – so this is not difficult do.

Keep in mind that if someone is thinking about taking fertility leave, they're probably already feeling worried or stressed, particularly if they're about to embark on complex fertility journeys that involve multiple antenatal appointments or visits to a fertility clinic. Make things as easy as possible for them by writing your fertility policy in a straightforward way.

Here's a checklist of questions to ask yourself when considering what sort of leave to offer:

- Will our policy offer paid or unpaid time off?

- Will our policy offer adjustments like flexible hours and remote working?

- Will our policy offer compassionate leave under certain circumstances?

- How many cycles of fertility treatment will the paid leave provision cover?

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

This is an important clarification once someone has spoken to you about needing support for fertility treatment or any challenges they're facing. It's an incredibly personal decision; sometimes people want their team to know, whereas other times people want to keep their fertility challenges private. Either way, their decision needs to be respected and not lead to any sort of unfavourable treatment.

4. Separate your fertility policy from your pregnancy loss policy

At Fertifa, we work with a number of different companies to create policies that best reflect their values and serve the particular needs of their employees. Although related, fertility issues and pregnancy losses present distinct challenges and often require different forms of support. By having separate policies, you’re recognising this difference, and ensuring your employees are being directed towards the most relevant policy and support services.

5. Signpost your team towards the right avenues of support

Whether you're directing employees towards internal resources or external support services, make sure your policy clearly explains where they can be found and how they can be accessed. Here, you may wish to mention specific support and fertility services such as:

Tommy's - Expert advice for parents on the various challenges faced during pregnancy, and the potential impacts fertility problems can have.

- Fertility Network UK - National support service for anyone experiencing fertility problems.

- The British Infertility Counselling Association - A comprehensive directory of specialist fertility counsellors based in the UK.

If you're already partnered with Fertifa, don't hesitate to mention the specialist support, treatment and guidance that your team can receive from one of our doctors or nurses through via our App - we're always here to help!

If you want discover more about how Fertifa can support your employees, please don't hesitate to get in touch using the button at the bottom of the page.

6. 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 through fertility treatment can be incredibly challenging too. Make sure partners are recognised in your policy and think about whether they will also 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!) for moral and practical support, and often need time off to support someone 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 important medical appointments. Egg collections and frozen embryo transfers are important milestones for the parents-to-be. Whatever you decide, make sure it's clear and written in an inclusive and sensitive way.

You might also want to signpost people towards information around pregnancy rights (which help protect them against unfair dismissal or unfair treatment) such as this one.

To discover more about specialist fertility treatments including embryo transfers and intrauterine insemination (and the pregnancy rights involved), please visit our article.

7. 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 and considering the pathways to parenthood for LGBTQ+ people and same-sex couples, in addition to 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
8. 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, through an anonymous questionnaire or by simply asking for feedback or input via email. Remember, this should be considered a working document. As you learn how to be an inclusive and better employer, your reproductive health policies should develop too.

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, or signposting to individuals where they can receive medical advice. 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 ask questions, can be helpful too.

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is when an individual is treated unfairly due to pregnancy, childbirth, or maternity leave. This can include unfair dismissals, demotion, or being treated unfavourably because of pregnancy-related absences. 

People going through IVF also have specific rights, and can claim indirect sex discrimination should they be treated unfairly because of treatment.

For a more detailed look into the laws surrounding pregnancy and maternity discrimination, this article by Citizens Advice is a great place to start. 

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

- 1 in 6 couples in the UK (that's 3.5 million people) will need some form of support to form their family

- Nearly all LGBTQ+ people and same-sex couples will need advice and support to grow their families, 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 and recognising the various effects of fertility treatments, you'll see more people want to stay in their jobs and an increase in productivity. Most of all, it'll help your team 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" approach - 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 💜