• 1 in 7 couples may have difficulty conceiving, but a survey of HR professionals reveals an enormous lack of fertility treatment HR policies and line manager training.

A survey of HR professionals has found that 93% of employers do not fully understand the legal obligations they have when supporting employees undergoing fertility treatment. Furthermore, according to the new research by employment law and HR consultancy firm, esphr by WorkNest, just 1 in 10 organisations say they have a policy concerning fertility treatment.

According to the NHS, around 1 in 7 couples may have difficulty conceiving. Despite fertility being a common issue for many employees to have to deal with, and its potentially big impact on work, the law has not caught up. The protections that employees expect will be there are not, and the law treats fertility treatment the same as an elective medical procedure such as laser eye surgery.

Sarah James, Associate Solicitor at esphr by WorkNest, said: “This lack of legal rights for employees and limited awareness from employers can potentially lead to unfair treatment for employees. Our findings underscore the importance of employers being well-informed about such matters to ensure that they provide appropriate support. There is also an opportunity for employers here. In a difficult recruitment market, employees may choose a company to work for on the basis of support being offered in this area.”

There is an enormous lack of line manager training around the topic. None of those surveyed said their organisation offers line managers comprehensive training on supporting employees with fertility challenges. Only six percent provide any training, while an overwhelming 94 percent said they don’t offer this type of training at all. This corresponds with a recent ‘Middle Managers Matters’ report from esphr which found 22 percent of line managers aren’t confident providing ongoing support with employment issues relating to fertility.


Sarah James said: “Managers lacking proper training on this topic may find themselves ill-prepared to offer assistance to team members facing a physically and emotionally demanding situation. Additionally, neglecting to extend support at a time like this may cause an organisation significant reputational harm. Embracing a proactive stance by providing relevant training to line managers enables organisations to foster a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture.”


On a more positive note, more than two-thirds (71%) of respondents said their company allows employees to take time off from work for appointments for fertility treatment and for connected purposes.


However, Sarah James comments: “We can see from the poll that most organisations do allow time off, but we don’t know how many will pay for that time off. So, one step that an organisation may choose to introduce is to offer paid time off for appointments. It might not be unlimited time off, but up to a certain threshold. Employers should be careful about expecting employees to make up time during what would otherwise be their rest periods.

“Employers can also think about whether employees can take off, for example, an hour or two without them having to use a full half day or full day of their annual leave. An employee who has to take a day’s holiday every time they want to attend an appointment could quickly work their way through their annual leave entitlement. This has an important bearing on rest and relaxation,particularly at such a challenging time.

“HR teams can also consider whether employees undergoing fertility treatment could have some agreed flexibility regarding when they take time off for appointments alongside working from home?”


esphr’s advice for designing a fertility policy

Employers must be clear, for example, about what kinds of treatment are covered in their policy; any rights the employer is granting to time off and pay for absence for appointments; any support available in the workplace; how fertility treatment-related sickness absence would be treated; stipulations around time off to attend appointments with a partner who is having treatment; and how confidentiality would be protected.

Sarah James adds: “While it is useful to have a policy in place, it shouldn’t be an isolated document. It’s a good reference point for both employees and line managers to understand what the framework for support is and can be a good way to open up a conversation. Store the policy somewhere that people can access without having to specifically request it, just in case at this point the employee is choosing to keep their fertility treatment confidential.”