Infertility: a workplace issue?

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16% of Canadian couples in which the woman is aged 18 to 44 are struggling with infertility. And yet only around 30 of Canada’s top 100 employers offer IVF as part of their group insurance coverage, and Quebec is the only province to offer fully funded IVF treatment for all couples considered infertile.

Those struggling to conceive can suffer from depression, anxiety and financial difficulty, which for their employers often means decreased productivity and absenteeism.  

But some repercussions are more serious and direct.

While employers aren’t required to cover the gap in fertility treatment left by provincial health care, they do have a legal obligation to support employees struggling with fertility.

According to Lauren Bernardi, employment lawyer and HR advisor at Bernardi Human Resource Law, HR managers have much the same obligation to employees struggling with infertility as they do to employees with a disability. “Under the Canadian Human Rights Act, organizations have a legal responsibility to accommodate pregnancy-related needs. If they don’t, they have to prove undue hardship or it falls within the grounds of sex discrimination.”

Accommodating an employee undergoing fertility treatment might mean granting time off to allow the individual to undergo tests and treatment, the timing of which can be unpredictable.

Bernardi says it is also important to consider what kind of work the individual is doing.
“It can be difficult for someone who is struggling to conceive,” she says. “They might be prone to miscarriages. HR managers need to consider what kind of work they’re doing and, if necessary, offer duties that might be less physically strenuous.”

The extent HR managers can assist those going through fertility treatment is in fact limited as, according to Resolve, a US-based fertility association, most women choose not to disclose their fertility treatment to their employer – for both privacy and avoidance of discrimination. However if an individual does disclose their fertility treatment it’s important to have guidelines in place.

Supporting fertility treatment at work

  • Be flexible. The timing of tests and treatment is often unpredictable
  • Offer time off. Infertility is a difficult diagnosis time off can not only allow an individual to come to terms with their infertility
  • Consider assigning less physically demanding duties

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