Infertility in the Workplace
How do I approach my employer about taking time-off from work for medical treatment of infertility?
This is a difficult issue for many people as they fear their employer may discriminate against them for taking time off from work and/or in anticipation that they will get pregnant. The Wall Street Journal wrote an article, “Women Battling Infertility Find a Friend in the Court,” about dealing with your employer when facing infertility (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121858336262134875.html). In this article, reporter Sue Shellenbarger wrote about a court case in which a “three-judge panel in Chicago found women who need time off work for infertility treatment may invoke the Pregnancy Discrimination Act as potential protection against adverse action.” This case highlighted the many challenges women and men face in trying to perform at work as well as go through infertility treatment. To complement the article, The Wall Street Journal interviewed RESOLVE’s Executive Director, Barbara Collura about this challenging issue. Collura gives tips on dealing with infertility treatment and work. Bottom line: there are no special considerations for time off for IVF and each person needs to follow their employer’s leave policy. However, based on that legal case if any discriminatory action is taken against an employee because she took time off for her treatment, she may be covered under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
Collura states that depending on your infertility diagnosis, many workplace challenges exist including the need to take time off to undergo tests and other appointments. The timing of some of these tests is unpredictable and depends on a woman’s menstrual cycle. This issue makes it difficult to plan in advance when and where the patient will need to go for the test or appointment. In addition, patients sometimes have to go multiple times during a day depending on the results of the tests. According to Collura, “it is difficult to balance the medical and surgical procedures with daily life and work.”
Besides the medical part of infertility treatments, women and men are dealing with the emotional stress of infertility. To put this into perspective, infertility treatment can be as stressful as a cancer diagnosis. Unique emotional challenges such as understanding the medical diagnosis, the relationship with your spouse and your family and friends and, finally, financial stress all combine together to make dealing with this issue more stressful. People feel isolated and anxious and they need to show up at work and perform – attend meetings, travel, make decisions – because their career path and/or financial situation depend upon it.
One of the biggest challenges in terms of the workplace, according to Collura, is disclosure. Each person needs to decide what they are going to reveal to their supervisors and colleagues. If treatment is a failure and everyone at work knows about your situation, how are you going to handle the sympathy and the many, many questions? If treatment is successful, you will want time to ensure the pregnancy is viable and healthy before announcing it to co-workers and especially to your employer. The guiding principle is to NOT LIE or be deceptive. Be as honest as you can, maintain the boundaries you need for privacy and work within the structure and rules of your organization to keep a good relationship with your employer. Here are pitfalls to avoid:
- Do Your Homework: Review you organization’s HR policies so you understand the amount of leave you have and other policies that pertain to your situation. You may be able to arrange for flex time or work from home on the days of your appointments, so that you do not actually miss any work.
- Be Honest: Go to supervisor and let her or him know that you will be using your leave time and will give as much notice as possible. Honesty is the best policy.
- Remember people are inherently curious about the disease of infertility. If you feel the questions are invasive and make you feel uncomfortable, remember you do not have to answer the questions. You can respond nicely and let them know that you appreciate their concern but you are not ready to answer any questions. Your co-workers are asking question because it is human nature to be curious.
- Talk to your healthcare providers and let them know about challenges in your work environment. The office may allow you more flexibility by opening the office earlier or meeting your scheduling needs. Develop an open relationship with physicians and nurses and have them work with you.
Remember, not everyone needs to know what is happening with your reproductive health. Infertility treatment brings up the fear of discrimination and issues of privacy. Use your best judgment of what makes you feel comfortable when divulging information to your supervisor and colleagues. This treatment has nothing to do with your performance at work. Go to work feeling confident that you will be able to perform your job and handle your workload during this time.