Fertility treatment can increase your chance of having children and the process can be an exciting journey that results in a healthy pregnancy. But it can also be a rollercoaster of hope, anxiety and disappointment – and it’s not always successful.
Continuing as usual at work and at home while going through fertility treatment can be challenging. Once the treatment starts, if you’re planning on carrying the baby, you will need to attend multiple appointments, often at late notice. You’re also probably going to need to take hormonal medication that might cause side effects and mood swings. Fertility can also involve procedures that leave you feeling unable to work.
If you’re the partner, you are also likely to need to go to some appointments and want to be there to support your partner.
“My wife wanted me by her side through everything we experienced. And, for part of it, I had to be there.”
How can fertility treatment affect work?
Experiencing difficulties conceiving and then going through treatment can be distressing for many people. As well as the different emotions you may experience, fertility treatment can also sometimes affect work in practical ways.
Treatment is likely to involve multiple appointments, some at very short notice. This makes it difficult to plan them into your working week and give notice as you might normally do. If possible, it’s a good idea to ask your manager for a flexible approach to your working week while you’re going through this. You will need an understanding manager and a flexible approach to your working week while you’re going through this.
If you are the planned mum or birthing parent, you might experience side effects or need time to recover from procedures. If you need to take hormones, they will also probably affect your mood.
If the procedure doesn’t work out, getting bad news is also likely to affect your ability to work.
By working closely with your line manager, you can work together to find ways to make sure that you get the support you need.
Telling your line manager
Whether you’re the planned mum, birthing parent or a partner, deciding whether or when to tell your line manager can be difficult, and will depend on the kind of relationship you have with them. If you have a trusting and open relationship, it will be a lot easier to talk about.
Being open about your need for time off can make the process less stressful for both of you. If your treatment will involve taking lots of leave, you can also take some time in advance to think about what you’d like to tell your colleagues.
“My appointments had to be scheduled at very late notice according to how the follicles responded to the medication. I often had to attend the clinic with less than a day’s notice. It would have been very difficult to explain this to my line manager had I not explained that I was going through fertility treatment. I would have had to lie and take an extended period of time off, claiming illness and I’d have found this very stressful on top of what I was going through already.”
Your line manager might be open to a short-term request for flexible working, which would be helpful to get through last minute appointments. Working from home could also be helpful if it reduces commuting time and allows you to be flexible about hours.
“My IVF appointments had to be scheduled around my ovulation cycle – so it wasn’t as if I could book them around my work commitments. Thankfully, my boss was really great and let me have time off without any problems at all. It was pretty stressful trying to keep on top of everything but her support made all the difference.”
Your employer should treat your medical appointments for IVF treatment like any other medical appointment. If you are off sick due to the side effects of IVF, your employer should treat your absence the same as any other sick leave.
If you’re the planned mum or birthing parent and the treatment involves embryo implantation, it’s helpful to know that your rights can come and go depending on where you are in the treatment process (see below). If your line manager knows about your treatment, then they have a legal obligation to make sure there are no risks to you at work and you’ll have all the legal protections and rights of pregnancy.
What are my rights about fertility treatment in the workplace?
Rights around pay and leave
If you become pregnant through fertility treatment, your rights largely follow standard arrangements for maternity pay and leave.
But before you become pregnant, you don’t have a statutory right to time off for fertility appointments. However, employers increasingly may have their own policies relating to this, such as offering medical appointment leave or fertility treatment leave. You can check your company’s policies and your contract. If these policies don’t exist, medical appointments for fertility treatment should be treated as standard medical appointments.
Even if your employer doesn’t have an official policy, they may find ways to support you through fertility treatment, such as by offering flexible working, annual leave or time off (whether paid or unpaid).
If you’re unwell for a reason related to your treatment, then, until you are pregnant, this falls under your employer’s standard sick leave and pay procedures. If you do become pregnant, any sickness is logged as pregnancy sick leave and shouldn’t be counted towards your sickness record.
Rights around IVF
With IVF, there is one important difference to other types of treatment and standard maternity arrangements: you have pregnancy rights immediately after embryo transfer (when the embryo is implanted in your uterus), even though you may not be confirmed as pregnant until some weeks later.
You don’t have to tell your employer at this stage but if you do, then you’re protected by pregnancy laws from this point onwards. That means you’re entitled to time off for antenatal appointments. It also means that any sick leave has to be logged as pregnancy sick leave and not counted towards your sickness record or used against you.
If the transfer is successful and you discover that you are pregnant, these rights continue as they would with any other pregnancy.
If you’re told that the transfer is unsuccessful, those rights continue for a further 2 weeks and then are lost again. If you’re having fertility treatment, you may have to repeat the process several times before it is successful. That means that your pregnancy rights may come and go over a period of time.
Taking care of yourself and your partner
Whether you’re planning on carrying the baby or you’re a partner, fertility treatment can be a bumpy ride. Unsuccessful treatment is likely to be emotionally difficult and stressful. It may be helpful to talk to your line manager about how you might manage things at work if you find out your treatment hasn’t worked.
For example, you might agree on some form of flexibility so you can take annual leave or work from home at short notice if you need time to recover emotionally or if you need to be at home to give support.
Take care of yourself and be kind to yourself and your partner if you’re going through this process.
More support and information
- fertilitynetworkuk.org The national charity for anyone who has ever experienced fertility problems.
- bica.net The British Infertility Counselling Association signposts to specialist fertility counsellors.
- fertilityfriends.co.uk The UK’s leading infertility online community with members at every stage of the journey.
- hfea.gov.uk Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is a government body with lots of information about treatments for people, whatever their situation.
- acas.org.uk Independent public body providing advice on employer-employee relationships.