After having her first child at 41, Claire Ingle started to campaign for greater workplace rights for women who undergo fertility treatment.
She was subject to several cycles of IVF treatment. She says that it was almost impossible for her to cope with the emotional toll and work.
She says, "I didn’t know how I could cope." "I was mentally ill."
Claire found it difficult to balance her career and the treatment which required frequent appointments and injections in the stomach with fertility drug.
She was working in Greater Manchester as a NHS HR manager at the time. However, she did not want to tell her employer because she felt embarrassed and ashamed and worried about what it might do to her career.
It affected my ability to do my job. It made it difficult to concentrate. It was very distressing to me to be around pregnant women. Claire describes how she recollects crying and locking herself in the bathroom.
She realized that there was a huge gap in support for the workplace.
Fertility Matters at Work was founded by Fertility Matters at Work to help other women avoid the same fate. It is designed to help companies understand how fertility issues can affect their employees as well as their business.
Nickie Aiken, Conservative MP, started campaigning to change the employment law after being inspired by Claire's story and others.
Recently, she presented the Fertility Treatment (Employment Rights), Bill to Parliament. This bill would allow couples and individuals to use their time to visit fertility clinics, as well as antenatal appointments.
The proposed legislation would require employers to create a workplace fertility policy. This would include guidelines on how to manage time off work for treatment or miscarriage, flexible work, and access to counselling and HR support.
Ms. Aiken describes the lengthy process of fertility treatment to be "emotionally draining and costly [and] risky".
She says, "The number people who hide it from their employers and take sick leave is shockingly large." It is difficult to manage treatment while trying to balance a career. People feel afraid to tell their employer because they fear being overlooked for promotion or being made redundant.
Ms. Aiken also looked into countries with fertility legislation, like Malta. She stated that the country recently offered 100 hours of paid time - 60 for the woman, 40 for the partner.
Manchester Metropolitan University published research in June that showed 80 women thought the existing policy was not sufficiently nuanced. Study participants said that the support received at work during fertility treatment was insufficient, leading to high absenteism and poor employee performance.
According to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, IVF treatments were performed on almost 53,000 people in the UK in 2019.
According to the Fertility UK and NHS, one-in-six heterosexual couples is affected by infertility. Women in same-sex relationships, and those who choose to be single parents with a donor, also use fertility treatment to conceive.
The sad truth is that IVF treatments do not guarantee that you will become a parent. According to NHS data, 32% of IVF treatments were successful in 2019 for women younger than 35 years old. This drops to 11% for women over 40.
The current UK employment legislation grants fertility treatment recipients all the same rights to pregnancy and maternity as non-assisted pregnancies. However, protection kicks in sooner for fertility treatment recipients.
Helen Burgess is an employment partner at Gateley Legal. She says that although there is no legal right to time off work for fertility treatments, employers will often treat fertility appointments as any other medical or dental appointment.
She is concerned that some sectors may not be able to use cover and rotas if the bill on fertility becomes law. It is hard for women working in public roles such as teaching, retail, and hospitality to take time off. These employers will cover last-minute sick absence, however.
She says that although predictability in time off is a problem, she doesn't believe the cost could be significant. It all depends on how many people they have to cover and how many cycles someone requires.
However, many UK-based companies like Natwest, Centrica, and Clifford Chance, have launched fertility programs in the last six months.
Phillips Law, Basingstoke is another option that provides financial support to IVF patients. It also offers time off and financial assistance.
Jack Gardener is a parent and joint managing partnership of the firm that employs over 70 people. He says he has seen the financial and emotional stress that couples can experience when trying to conceive.
His firm's policy should "raise awareness" and start a discussion about fertility and give what can be stressful the best chance of success.
He says, "It is confusing that large businesses support employees to buy annual travel tickets, bikes or cars but may have not considered financial assistance to their employees through this expensive process."
"I hope that we will be an example to the law industry and others in thinking innovatively about the support they can offer their staff outside of the office."