Should fertility treatment be an employee right?

by | Mar 27, 2019 | UK Fertility News


Should fertility treatment be an employee right?

by | Mar 27, 2019 | UK Fertility News

In 2016 the number of women having children over 40 was higher than the number of under-20s having children for the first time since World War II.

As women increasingly put off having children in order to focus on building careers there’s more demand than ever for fertility treatments.

In the UK, 50,000 people begin fertility treatments every year in the hope of having children, and issues around work, women and healthcare raise questions about whether fertility treatment such as IVF should be covered by employee benefits.

Is infertility really just a private medical matter, or do employers have some responsibility when it comes to workers who are struggling to have a family?

Number of US employers supporting fertility treatment is rising

One in every 50 babies born in the UK is the result of IVF treatment and six out of every ten IVF cycles are funded privately. Long NHS waiting lists and a combination of specific requirements mean that in the majority of cases people are paying between £6,000 and £10,000 out of their own pocket for one cycle, and in top clinics prices can even go north of £15,000.

In the United States prices are higher, with one cycle costing anywhere between $12,000 and $20,000, but due to the nature of healthcare packages offered by companies to employees, this is increasingly being covered by employers.

Last year a survey by Willis Towers Watson revealed that two-thirds (66 per cent) of employers in the US expect to offer fertility benefits by 2019, up from 55 per cent in 2017. Results also showed that 71 per cent of the employers offering fertility benefits did so to support their inclusion and diversity goals and objectives, 59 per cent said it was to help recruit and retain top talent and 49 per cent saw it as necessary in order to be recognised as a “best place to work”.

That said, fertility benefits do not necessarily include IVF, and in many places only offer much less effective treatments such as intrauterine insemination, or do not cover the full cost of IVF cycles. There’s an acknowledgement here then that fertility is an increasing concern to employees, but there is still a long way to go before fertility treatment is seen as a standard benefit.

UK employees reluctant to talk about fertility treatment at work

While the debate about employee benefits and fertility in the US seems to be making some progress, in the UK things are a little more complicated. The Fertility Network UK says that employees are often reluctant to tell their bosses about fertility treatments that they are having, let alone ask for support.

There are a number of reasons for this: firstly, employees often worry that their personal issues related to fertility will not be taken seriously, they also worry about confidentiality being breached, and perhaps the most concerning point for many is that the concern that it could negatively affect their career prospects.

Natalie, a 42-year-old product marketing manager from London, decided to have IVF treatment after being told that she was too old to qualify for treatment on the NHS. “I decided not to tell my employers about my treatment and found myself feeling incredibly isolated”, she says.

“I had spent so many years focusing on my career and felt a sense of shame around my decision. I didn’t want my boss to think I had changed my priorities and I was worried that if the IVF didn’t work, I would have affected my image in the workplace”.

With the already heated discussion taking place around sexism at work, balancing the gender pay gap, the fallout of #MeToo and countless harassment scandals it’s not surprising that women feel that issues around fertility may not be a priority for their employers. If women struggle already with the issues around natural pregnancies, like paid maternity leave and their position in their office when they return to work, adding additional complications that come into play around IVF – days needed to visit clinics, the fact that more than one cycle of IVF is often necessary and the side effects of treatment – certainly make fertility a tough issue to address in the workplace.

What responsibility do employers have in terms of employee infertility?

But is infertility really just a private medical matter, or do employers have some responsibility when it comes to workers who are struggling to have a family? If there is already support for paid parental leave and, in the US for example, a push to make company-sponsored insurance plans cover birth control, is fertility treatment not the next issue that has to be tackled?

After all, infertility is officially recognised as a disease by the World Health Organization, which it defines as “the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse”. This means that it now falls into a unique space where disability, medical treatment and pregnancy intersect, thus making it a thorny issue. Couple with this the fact that infertility is extremely common – one in seven couples face problems trying to conceive, according to the NHS – and it becomes clear that this is a concern that is only going to become increasingly relevant to employers.

The issue is that there is not yet any clear guidance about the responsibility that a workplace has to employees suffering from infertility, so HR departments and managers are finding themselves having to make calls on these issues themselves.

This can create huge disparities between the level of cover that is offered from company to company. As IVF often requires more than one cycle to be effective, this raises the question about how many cycles may be offered, how much of the treatment and care should be covered, and even until what age should women be allowed to try IVF. These are all questions that companies may not have thought about just yet, but as fertility treatment becomes increasingly normalised as part of employee benefits, companies will have to start coming up with answers.


More articles

Surrogacy UK welcomes Law Commission Consultation Paper on Reforming UK’s Outdated Surrogacy Laws

On 6th June, at a conference entitled ‘Reforming Surrogacy Laws: Future Directions and Possibilities’, the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission will launch their public consultation on reforming the UK’s outdated surrogacy laws. Surrogacy UK has long campaigned for legal reform and was consulted by the Law Commission in the preparation of their proposals.

Domicile and Surrogacy: The 5 W’s

“Where is your home?” seems like a simple question. But in our multi-cultural society, that is not always so. For intended parents in a surrogacy arrangement, it is one of the most important questions to ask.

Surrogacy UK Code of Practice update

The HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) govern and regulate all fertility treatments that take place in licensed fertility centres throughout the UK. The code of practice has recently been updated and we are awaiting the official issue of the 9th edition so that we can implement this into our clinical practice.

NHS Funding and Surrogacy

There’s been much discussion in recent days about the story in the Daily Mail about a same sex male couple in the UK who have received public funding for IVF treatment to try to create embryos using their own gametes and donor eggs.

Fertility regulator calls for clinics to be more open about treatment add-ons

The HFEA, the UK fertility regulator, has called for a change in how patients are offered optional fertility treatment add-ons.

Surrogacy Survey 2018 Results

Surrogates do not support calls for commercial surrogacy in the UK. Over 70 per cent of surrogates in the UK believe they should only be allowed to claim expenses when they carry a child for another couple, the UK’s largest ever survey into surrogacy has found.

Surrogacy UK welcomes individuals who want to start families

Surrogacy UK welcomes individuals who want to start families as UK Parliament votes to end three decades of discrimination.

Research findings from a longitudinal study of surrogacy families in the UK

Around the year 2000, a group of researchers, headed by Professor Susan Golombok, began a study of families created using surrogacy. I have worked on the project from its beginnings, when children in the study were one year old infants. Since then, our team has revisited the families five times and last saw them when the children were aged 14.

Host or Straight Surrogacy – Choosing your path

If you’re reading this then you will have most likely either made the choice that surrogacy is the path to parenthood that you wish to take, or you are close to taking that first big step.