Employers expand benefits to include cost of fertility treatment


The company’s benefits ranged from a gym membership to a car. Today, a small but growing number of UK groups are offering to cover the costs of in vitro fertilization and surrogacy for staff.

The coronavirus pandemic has put the mental and physical health of employees in the spotlight and accelerated a trend towards tailored human resource benefits, such as fertility treatment and counseling.

“There has been an increase in mental and physical well-being on the business agenda. . . but the pandemic has accelerated this massively, ”said Helen Beedham, a workplace consultant who advises companies on fertility policies.

“Employers wouldn’t have been really involved in what might be considered someone’s life outside of work, but that is changing. . . whether it is relationship counseling or reproductive health [support], “she added.

In the past six months, at least four UK companies – NatWest Bank, energy supplier Centrica and law firms Clifford Chance and Cooley – have launched fertility treatment services worth up to reach £ 45,000 per person.

Investors and consultants said this marks a growing trend, especially among British multinationals, towards the kind of workplace health policies already common in the United States.

“[HR policies] It could have been access to the gym and mindfulness sessions, but now it’s a much broader and deeper strategy, ”Beedham said.

Declining fertility is a growing problem in developed countries, in part due to people choosing to start families later in life, as well as other factors such as a 50% drop in the number. of sperm since 1970.

Fertility problems affect one in six couples, or around 3.5 million people, in the UK today, according to the NHS, with a growing number seeking treatment.

Champions of Workplace Fertility Benefits say they can help create a more diverse workplace by reducing the emotional and financial burden on women, same-sex couples, and people in treatment.

“[Reproductive benefits] are very inclusive, ”said Katie Beck, CEO of Fertifa, a third-party fertility health care provider. “It used to be considered a ‘women’s issue’, but the reality is 40% of fertility issues are linked to men and any LGBT + couple wishing to start a family will need support to do so.”

A company that offers fertility benefits can also help allay staff concerns about the lack of employment law coverage for people who are absent from work for extended periods of time for fertility treatment.

“IVF is incredibly intrusive in your life but has no specific protection under equality law,” said Beth Hale, partner at CM Murray law firm.

She said pregnancy was protected against discrimination, but “you only get protection from the time the fetus is implanted.” She added that employees “often don’t explain their absences because it’s very busy and personal. . .[Companies offering fertility benefits]helps to reduce this stigma ”.

Consultant Helen Beedham: “Employers wouldn’t have really been involved in what could be considered someone’s life outside of work, but that is changing”

Portrait of Katie Beck from Fertifa

Katie Beck from care provider Fertifa: ‘[Reproductive benefits] are very inclusive. . . any LGBT + couple wishing to start a family will need support to do so ”

Beedham, who has been on treatment herself, agreed: “One of the hardest things about fertility treatment is carrying the burden of having it and letting no one know it at work.

“It has a huge impact on your everyday life. At one point, I was driving through town to the clinic twice a day and doing injections in clients’ toilets. It is incredibly stressful.

It is also expensive. A single cycle of IVF costs over £ 6,000 and has less than a 50% chance of pregnancy. Surrogacy can cost up to £ 30,000, according to Surrogacy UK.

Beedham spent every bonus on his treatment for three years and said the uncertainty was “just awful.”

Although the total number of companies offering fertility services in the UK remains low, Will Gibbs, a fund manager at Octopus who invests in healthcare companies, said “the tide seems to be turning.” He thought it was “partly because the taboo is gradually being eroded and more and more people are talking about their experiences.”

Some employers offer reproductive health services and advice through health insurance policies, others use third-party specialists, such as Carrot, Peppy and Fertifa.

Tech company LinkedIn was among the first large companies to offer fertility services to UK staff in 2019. The company offers reimbursements of up to £ 21,000 for IVF or adoption treatment costs.

That same year, Goldman Sachs expanded its Pathways to Parenthood program to its banking operations around the world, offering to cover the costs of treatments, including donated eggs, up to $ 20,000 (£ 15,500).

Last year, asset manager BlackRock began offering financial support to UK-based staff to cover fertility benefits, including counseling costs.

NatWest said she was confident in expanding the benefits after lobbying her fertility and loss support network, led by her staff. “Reproductive issues can have a profound effect on well-being, so when our network identified a lack of support and funding for fertility treatment, we knew this was something we needed to help,” did he declare.

Cooley’s London partner Sascha Grimm said his program, launched in partnership with Carrot, is worth up to £ 45,000. “The firm supports all paths to parenthood,” she added.

Clifford Chance said her policy, which offers refunds of up to £ 15,000, was driven by staff demand for reproductive health advice she was offering through Peppy.

But workplace support for such services has not come without controversy. “One element of what has been controversial is that employers pay for the freezing of eggs. Some people would say companies are offering this just because they want workers to delay their childbearing years, ”Hale said. “But if employers are offering egg freezing as part of a package of benefits, that’s a whole different thing.”

Beedham said a large employer recently decided at the last minute to cancel a conference on supporting fertility in the workplace because “there were concerns that this could be interpreted as the employer encouraging employees to consider freezing eggs in order to delay parenthood and prioritize their careers “.

Beck de Fertifa said such cynicism characterizes a lack of understanding of the issues. “In our experience, opting for [egg freezing] has nothing to do with intentionally delaying parenthood or prioritizing a career. In about 80% of cases, women simply haven’t met the right partner “or choose to do so for medical reasons,” she added.

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