More companies offering leave and supports for IVF

Some employers provide contributions worth more than €50,000 to cost of treatments

The end of year rush of gender pay gap reports has highlighted the growing number of employers providing fertility treatment supports to their staff as part of wider health packages, with some firms said to be offering contributions to the costs in excess of €50,000.

Leading professional services and legal firms such as PwC, KPMG and McCann Fitzgerald are among the employers to flag the supports they provide in their 2023 gender pay gap reports but legislation on aspects such as paid leave is still required, campaigners on the issue say.

The number of companies offering supports such as leave or financial help for the cost of treatment is still relatively low, with a survey of Ibec member companies last year finding that 11 per cent had specific policies. However, the numbers are growing with, for example, Bank of Ireland, Vodafone and Lidl outlining new or enhanced packages of health and family caring policies that include fertility supports over the last 18 months or so.

Brooke Quinn, chief operating officer at Carrot, a US-based firm that provides specialist fertility related employee programmes to companies, including in Ireland, says the landscape is changing “dramatically”. A few years ago such supports were almost unheard of outside of the tech sector, she says.


“Now we’re seeing companies across virtually every sector, from financial and legal services, automotive, manufacturing, and retail, to food and beverage, entertainment, sports, and more, offer fertility benefits to their employees.”

At the top end, she says, some companies offer financial supports worth more than €50,000.

Meta was one of a number of well-known multinationals recently reported to provide substantial supports. While they did not confirm the figures involved, the company told The Irish Times it supports employees “with family building including egg preservation, IVF and support for surrogacy and adoption”.

Most schemes are more modest, typically periods of paid or unpaid leave, flexibility around attendance or workloads and other non-financial supports. However, the numbers engaging generally continues to increase, Quinn says, partly because of greater awareness of the issue, partly because it is a benefit that matters a great deal to those affected and can do a lot to generate loyalty.

Men, the statistics suggest, are affected by fertility issues almost as commonly as women and, the company has said, account for about 40 per cent of engagements with its schemes.

In Ireland Carrot works with Sims IVF where group clinical director Mikey O’Brien says the difference to a patient between having a supportive employer and not is enormous.

“The women will be in around half a dozen times in roughly two weeks at one stage of a cycle of treatment and while the visits take maybe 40 minutes they are battling the traffic to get there. For the ones who are supported, there’s not a bother, they are excited but for, say, a teacher who has to get back in front of a class or a nurse who needs to be on a ward, anyone who doesn’t have that support, you can see how stressed they are. It’s a massive difference.”

O’Brien says that as well as the physical challenge of getting through the treatment, the women often need psychological supports afterwards where it has not been successful.

At Lidl, which employs about 6,000 in Ireland with a roughly 50/50 gender split, staff undergoing fertility treatment are given two days paid leave per cycle and “as much flexibility around appointments as we can possibly give, that applies to both partners,” says Maeve McCleane, the company’s chief people officer.

The policy, she says, was the product of “listening more to our employees and understanding more”.

“We see figures of one in six having difficulty getting pregnant and perhaps half of those having to go for infertility treatment, which it doesn’t always work,” she says.

The fertility supports might be of particular relevance in a company where the average age of employees is about 35, she says, but it is just one of a wider range of initiatives on issues such as women’s health that includes a menopause policy.

“A lot of what we are doing doesn’t necessarily cost a lot of money, it might be in the form of training for managers but the intention is to create a greater understanding of what is going on in other people’s lives.” That process, she says, has been greatly aided by employee engagement with a number of staff impacted by the issues sharing their stories and helping to generate broader awareness.

A major survey, conducted this year in the UK by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, found that while just 7 per cent of all employers had stand-alone fertility treatment policies, almost the same number again had plans to formulate some. In the meantime, another 20 per cent had health or maternity/paternity policies that included a fertility aspect.

The workers polled, however, identified understanding from managers and colleagues that they were going through a challenging time, as a key priority with only paid time off ranked higher.

Labour Senator Marie Sherlock says it is good that more companies are aware of the issue and supportive but it should not be down to whether those affected are lucky enough to have a well-disposed employer.

She and the party have been seeking to introduce legislative changes that would provide up to 20 days leave for women who experience an early miscarriage and up to 10 for those undergoing fertility treatments such as IVF, with the Bill set to be given Dáil time by the party in the new year.

“The vast majority of employers out there will be good when something happens, when there is a crisis of some sort in one of their employees’ lives but there is a distinction between having an employer who is empathetic and having a statutory right to leave and it is particularly important when it comes to those in customer facing roles or people on fixed hours where there isn’t the flexibility to start a couple of hours late.

“Some employers,” she says, “and representative groups will say that such leave would be another added cost,” after recent changes in areas like sick leave and domestic violence leave. “But the numbers with this would be tiny in the general scheme of things. There are over two million people in work and maybe 12,000 IVF cycles undertaken in Ireland each year. So the numbers are small but the need for that leave is massively important to those individuals.”

In figures

The WHO says approximately one in every six people of reproductive age worldwide experience infertility in their lifetime.

In the US the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has said “about 9 per cent of men and about 11 per cent of women of reproductive age in the United States have experienced fertility problems”.

Figures compiled by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service show the total number of assisted reproductions cycles commenced was 7,589 in 2009 but rose to 11,359 in 2018 before falling to below 10,000 during the pandemic.

The cost of a cycle of IVF at Sims IVF, which operates a group of clinics in Ireland, is about €6,000. Success rates vary according to a range of factors, including age, and it is common for women to undergo a number of cycles.

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Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times