One in four women experience unfair treatment at work after disclosing fertility issues, study reveals

Commentators say findings ‘come as no surprise’ and warn mishandling such cases could land employers in legal hot water

Credit: Marko Geber/Getty Images

A quarter (24 per cent) of women who told their boss about their fertility treatment did not receive any support at work and the same percentage experienced unfair treatment as a result, a report has shown.

The new report by Pregnant Then Screwed, based on a sample of 3,540 randomly selected people from a pool of 24,193 total survey respondents, revealed that being transparent about fertility can be costly to women’s careers.

One in five (22 per cent) women who had experienced pregnancy loss and disclosed it to their employer then went on to suffer unfair treatment following it. In contrast, just 6 per cent of partners who told their boss about their loss faced negative treatment, according to the report.

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Professor Geeta Nargund, medical director of CREATE Fertility and abc ivf, said “the sad truth is that these findings are no great surprise”, adding that they were reflective of the UK’s gender health gap.

“Unfortunately, despite positive developments with some employers, and political action to tackle the issue, many reproductive health issues are still not given sufficient support in the workplace,” she said. This is despite “infertility affecting one in seven couples in the UK and estimations that around 20 per cent of pregnancies result in miscarriage”.

The Pregnant Then Screwed research, carried out in partnership with Women In Data, coincides with the charity receiving an increased number of calls from women who face discrimination in the workplace amid reproductive health issues.

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Joeli Brearley, chief executive and founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, said the pain and emotional trauma of going through the unknowns of fertility treatment, or the “utter heartbreak” of baby loss, can be excruciating, and this is “compounded by hostile employers who discriminate against women for wanting a baby”.

“Women are incredibly vulnerable at this time, and they need support from their employer, rather than prejudice… employers should be very aware that this type of behaviour is unlawful and could land them in court if they are not careful,” she warned.

Offering advice for companies on how to tackle these issues, Nargund emphasised the importance of training, communication and support, as well as clear policies. “While companies may have resources to support employees with some reproductive health concerns, specific fertility or women’s health policies will make a world of difference to employees who may be afraid to speak out,” she said.

Policies that include things like subsidised costs and funding for fertility treatments, family planning support, counselling and flexible working “will all help women going through what can be a financially, physically and mentally straining journey”, Nargund advised.

In a poll of 1,300 fertility patients from a recent study by Fertility Network UK, covered by People Management, just under half (47 per cent) said reasonable adjustments – such as fridges for medications, a quiet space to inject or flexibility to take last-minute calls – had been made in the workplace.

In addition, the report showed that more than a third (36 per cent) of respondents felt their career was damaged as a result of fertility treatment and the majority (58 per cent) were concerned that fertility treatment would impact their career prospects.