“You shouldn’t have to choose between your job and IVF”

Sarah Dixon is project development officer for Fertility in the Workplace for Fertility Network UK. She uses her own experiences to support both individuals and employers navigating infertility and IVF treatment. Sarah is the guest speaker at the Fertility Support Group meeting on 13th September.

When to tell your line manager about IVF?

Telling your boss that you are having IVF treatment can be a daunting prospect and some people choose not to tell their employer at all, but the practicalities of attending and juggling appointments, scans and procedures can often make it impractical to keep it a secret.  

Currently in England there is no automatic right to time off for fertility treatment and so it very much depends on the company you work for, and whether they have a fertility policy in place, as to whether you might be offered flexible working, paid time off or unpaid time off.   

Sarah Dixon, Fertility Network UK
Sarah Dixon, Fertility Network UK

For Sarah, IVF represented potentially her last chance at becoming a mum; however, she felt her employers viewed IVF more as her lifestyle choice than the necessary medical treatment it is.

“It isn’t uncommon for women to take annual leave to go to IVF appointments and it can become very stressful when doctors have to make last minute appointments because your body isn’t playing ball”.

After three rounds of juggling IVF with a calendar of work appointments Sarah handed in her notice.

“Leaving my job was a huge decision; it felt very reckless when we had large IVF bills to pay,” she says.

Sarah and her husband are now parents to a two-year-old daughter after her fourth round of IVF treatment and Sarah is enjoying a complete career change.

Desire for change in the workplace

Sarah joined the charity Fertility Network UK earlier this year as Fertility in the Workplace Development Officer. She feels optimistic that things are changing for the better with a greater awareness around women’s health issues generally and a genuine desire for engagement from companies wanting to support employees going through infertility and IVF.  

“We run awareness sessions for managers and employers on best practice in the workplace around staff members who are having IVF and in the last year have seen an increase in demand,” she says. “The whole menopause movement taking off has really helped with companies all of a sudden thinking that fertility is another area which they should be covering and supporting employees with.  

“Another area which managers need support with sometimes is managing people at different stages of their fertility journey. So they might have someone in the office who is all excited because they are pregnant who is sitting near another person going through IVF or who has experienced a pregnancy loss. So it is a case of raising awareness of the need for everyone of the sensitivities and to be ‘mindful in the workplace’. Maybe the ‘gender reveal’ cupcakes or someone coming into the office with their new baby could be triggering. We are not saying don’t celebrate pregnancy but be more mindful of what other people might be going through.” 

My job or IVF? 

Looking back at her own experience in the workplace whilst having IVF, Sarah says that she wishes she had spoken to them more.

“At the time I was feeling very emotional, and I could hardly say the word ‘IVF’ without choking up, so I didn’t want to talk about it with them. I didn’t realise that some workplaces have IVF policies. I wish I had asked them if we could have had a workplace policy. The answer may have been no, but I never asked. I will never know if it would have made a difference.”

Book a place to hear Sarah speak at the next Fertility Support Group taking place on 13th September.

Juggling work with fertility treatment  

There is no automatic legal right to time off for fertility treatment, however medical appointments related to fertility treatment should be treated in the same way as any other medical appointment under your employer’s policy (you may want to check your contract or staff handbook).  

Many employers now have fertility policies to support staff who need time off and it would be worthwhile enquiring if your workplace has one. The Equality and Human Rights Commission Code recommend that employers treat time off for IVF treatment sympathetically.   

Some people find they need to take sick leave when they are going through fertility treatment particularly if they need time to recover from the effects of medical procedures and drug treatment. Your GP would be able to sign you off sick and this should be dealt with by your employer in the same way as any other sick leave.  

Remember that infertility is a medical condition and should be regarded as such by your employer. Asking whether your employer has a fertility policy may be a starting point for discussions.  

Edited excerpt taken from Employee’s Guide to Fertility in the Workplace (Fertility Network UK)  

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