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London law firm accredited as "fertility-friendly employer"

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First published by workingmums on 15.12.2022. Written by Shyamantha Asokan.

Burgess Mee, a family law firm in London, became the UK’s first accredited “fertility-friendly employer” last month. But what does this term mean in practice? Why did the firm want to get this accreditation and how did they get it?

We spoke to Antonia Mee, one of Burgess Mee’s founding partners, and Becky Kearns, co-founder of Fertility Matters at Work, which runs the accreditation programme.

What is a “fertility-friendly employer”?

Fertility Matters at Work (FMAW), which trains employers to support staff with fertility issues, can accredit employers as “fertility-friendly”. These companies must fulfil certain criteria, including having standalone fertility policies that provide leave for appointments, and having at least 85% of line-managers complete a short e-learning course. FMAW helps companies to work towards the accreditation and continues to support them after they are accredited.

“We wanted to make sure that, when organisations join FMAW, it isn’t just a tick-box exercise,” Kearns said.

Fertility issues are often considered a taboo, despite being common – around 1 in 7 couples may have difficulty conceiving, according to the NHS. Fertility issues and treatments can be emotionally and physically draining, with processes that involve multiple medical appointments. As a result, over a third (38%) of men and women said they had either left or seriously considered leaving their job while going through such issues, according to a 2021 survey by Fertifa and Fertility Network UK.

Why was Burgess Mee keen to get the accreditation?

In recent months, Burgess Mee has been at the forefront of how employers can help staff to manage fertility issues alongside work. The firm, which was founded in 2012, appointed a workplace fertility officer late last year. It is widely thought to be the first UK workplace to have someone in this role.

For Antonia Mee (pictured left), obtaining fertility-friendly accreditation for the whole firm was an important next step, because it has widened expertise out beyond the fertility officer. “I think it’s important for everyone in the firm to be aware of issues that might be surrounding people who are going through fertility issues,” she said.

The accreditation also shows that the firm’s interest in this issue isn’t just a phase. “I think it’s important that we don’t just make a gesture and then leave,” Mee said. Burgess Mee employs around 30 people, including solicitors, paralegals, and support staff.

How did staff benefit from the e-learning course?

FMAW’s online training covers practical issues, such as how long treatments take and how often someone might need to be off work, as well as emotional issues, such as how to support colleagues.

“It’s a case of listening to what support that person might want. Every person is going to be different,” Mee said. “[Do they want] a sympathetic ear, or advice from someone who’s been through something similar, or just quiet time and not necessarily talking about it at work?”

What workplace policies does the firm have in place?

Burgess Mee’s fertility policies include: 35 hours’ paid leave for both male and female staff to attend appointments, £1,000 towards a fertility treatment or investigation, and access to the fertility officer for advice and support. The firm also has a baby-loss policy, which provides one week’s paid leave for staff who lose a baby at any stage of a pregnancy, and which can be extended via sick leave policies if needed.

A rising number of employers have launched fertility policies in recent years. For example, the banking group NatWest and the energy company Centrica subsidise some treatments for staff. Co-op, the supermarket chain, announced last month that it would offer paid leave for treatments. Several major UK employers also signed a Fertility Workplace Pledge last month, to show their commitment to supporting staff and some are keen to raise awareness.

Why should employers get this accreditation?

Mee said she would recommend the fertility-friendly accreditation to other law firms, as it sends a signal to staff that they will be supported during different stages of their life. UK companies in many sectors are increasing their focus on employee wellbeing, partly to help them find and retain talented people. 

“It’s been really well-received by our staff. They are reassured by the care that we want to provide, and also proud of their firm,” Mee said. “I think the things that people are looking for from their employers are very different from what they were 20 years ago.”