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Women's Healthcare Q3 2022

UK employers failing to support women’s reproductive healthcare needs

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Gwenda Burns

Chief Executive, Fertility Network UK

Outdated and inadequate workplace policies are failing women needing fertility treatment.

Glaring gap in reproductive health workplace policies

The UK pioneered fertility treatment but workplace policies are yet to catch up. Infertility is defined as a disease by the World Health Organization with its treatment requiring women to undergo complex, time-sensitive and sometimes lengthy medical intervention. Yet, within the workplace, the majority of UK employers don’t grant time off for fertility treatment, as they do for medical or surgical appointments.

Instead, women have to use annual leave, take unpaid leave, cut back working hours and sometimes leave employment, in order to travel to and attend the necessary multiple fertility clinic appointments. 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 was 8.7.

Recognise infertility as a legitimate health condition

This glaring gap in workplace support fails many women and their partners. In 2019, according to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, 53,000 women, most in employment, underwent fertility treatments such as IVF.

That’s why Fertility Network UK, the national fertility charity, is calling for employers to recognise infertility as a legitimate health condition. Doing so would allow fertility patients to be granted appropriate medical leave under the same conditions set out in general employer/employee medical policies.

The majority of UK employers don’t grant time off for fertility treatment.

No legal right for time off work

Shockingly, there is also no legal right in the UK for time off work for fertility treatment. Fertility Network, together with MP Nickie Aiken, is campaigning for this appalling situation to end. In June 2022, Ms Aiken put forward a Private Members’ Bill which, if passed by Parliament, will give fertility patients the right to paid leave for medical appointments. 

Fertility support is good for business as well as employees

Fertility Network believes supporting anyone facing fertility challenges is good for business as well as employees. Forward-thinking businesses are recognising this, 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.

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