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Women's Health Q1 2022

UK employers failing to support women’s reproductive healthcare needs

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Gwenda Burns

Chief Executive, Fertility Network UK

Reproductive technologies have improved drastically in their 40-plus year history, but workplace policies to protect and support women in need of fertility treatment are still sadly lacking.


In 2019, according to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, 53,000 women, most of them in employment, underwent fertility treatments such as IVF – the complex, invasive and often distressing medical procedures which is the recommended approach to treat the disease of infertility.

Time off work for fertility treatment

Due to the complexity of IVF and because timing is key in fertility treatment, any woman having IVF or a similar procedure must take adequate time off work to attend the necessary multiple fertility clinic visits. A 2016 survey by Fertility Network found that half of women needed more than a week off work for a treatment cycle, while the average number of days taken off work was 8.7 days.

Yet shockingly, in the UK, there is no legal right for time off work for fertility treatment. Instead, employers have to take annual or unpaid leave in order to have their necessary medical treatment. This is an appalling and unfair situation that we want to see change.

Fertility support is beneficial to all

Fertility Network believes it is essential for employers to support women facing fertility challenges, benefiting businesses as well as employees. Our research has revealed too many women end up reducing their hours, taking sick leave or leaving employment as a result of their fertility struggles and their employers’ lack of support.

Fertility workplace policy

One way to address these issues is for firms to have a dedicated fertility policy specifying the support that is available if employees need fertility treatment. For women and their partners, having a written policy is reassuring and stress-reducing as it removes uncertainties about how to access workplace support and what is available, as well as demonstrating their employer’s care and understanding of fertility matters.

Our research has revealed too many women end up reducing their hours, taking sick leave or leaving employment as a result of their fertility struggles and their employers’ lack of support.

Change on the horizon

Fertility Network has been working to educate employers about fertility issues for decades. We’ve seen a surge of interest in recent years with more firms joining our Fertility in the Workplace initiative, which helps companies implement a fertility policy and ensures staff and managers understand the impact of fertility and treatment so they can support those around them.

Although the majority of UK firms still don’t have fertility policies in place, the hope is that forward-thinking businesses are now recognising the value in supporting women’s reproductive health needs.

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