How to explain time off for IVF treatment
June 24, 2015 5:49 PM   Subscribe

After several years of unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant, my husband I were approved for IVF treatment (through NHS, we are in the UK). If things go to plan I could be starting treatments as soon as end of next month, but depending on my cycles, possibly the following month. Once my treatment starts there's a lot of appointments for scans and of course, egg collection and implantation, all within the span of 3-4 weeks. How should I explain this at work? Details inside:

The doctor mentioned that the scans would be in the mornings (not sure what time), 3x a week for the first couple of weeks of treatment. Then probably a day out for egg collection, then another one a few days after for implantation.

I don't feel I can only keep this to HR. I am senior level at an agency and I am required to meet with clients, but usually through a project manager so I feel like they need to know my availability (in particular there's a trip we are currently planning that might not work that week). My boss wouldn't really notice my absence, but as my boss they should know why my timesheets are a bit thin (or maybe I could negotiate different working hours? Is that advisable?). Then there is my team who have also come to see me as being very reliably available and my sporadic absence will not go unnoticed.

I've only been at this job for about 2 months so I feel I need to explain or excuse somehow. But I'm wary of disclosing exactly why, for probably obvious reasons. I am ok to be vague but I would like your thoughts on what words to use and how to avoid prying, awkwardness, and also convey a sense that I would like this to be kept a private matter but not make a big deal about it. I will figure out if I use PTO or sick days for this, but it's more about how to have the conversation and how much to disclose that I need some guidance on, particularly if you have gone through this before.

What do I say to HR?
What do I say to my boss?
What do I say to my PM(s)?
What do I say to my team?

Thanks, so happy this community exists!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think you should work this out with your boss under the vague flag of needing to work out some flex time as you will be "undergoing treatment to resolve a medical condition." I would not be more specific than that. If pressed you can say "It's really very private."
posted by DarlingBri at 6:16 PM on June 24, 2015 [14 favorites]


"My doctor has advised me that I will need in-office treatments for an issue that's cropped up. I hope you'll understand my need for privacy about the medical details. My doctor says I'll need about 8 appointments, which can be scheduled ahead. I don't expect this to affect my productivity, but I'd like to work with you to make sure any possible disruption is minimized."
posted by zennie at 6:18 PM on June 24, 2015 [19 favorites]


You don't have to (and really you shouldn't) say any more than "I'm undergoing a course of medical treatment, it's nothing serious, but I'd rather keep the details private. Here's what my schedule will look like..."
posted by ottereroticist at 6:18 PM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've only been at this job for about 2 months so I feel I need to explain or excuse somehow.

Ignore that feeling. Your employer does not have a right to know about your personal medical issues.

"I am dealing with some medical issues - I'll need to take some time off, but mostly for pre-scheduled appointments with my doctor. I'll be able to provide a fair amount of warning, and I'll work around it to minimise the disruption to our work."

You are not asking for permission. You are notifying them that you are exercising your right to take sick/flex leave, but you will do so in a way that minimises the disruption to your workplace.

(or maybe I could negotiate different working hours? Is that advisable?)

This is one way of minimising the disruption - you can say that you make up the hours on other days.

Then there is my team who have also come to see me as being very reliably available and my sporadic absence will not go unnoticed.

They'll live. You're giving them notice on when you will not be available. They can wait until you get back from your appointments to talk to you. Dealing with uncertainty is an important work skill - it will be good for them.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:20 PM on June 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


If it's not inaccurate to characterize the egg collection as "minor surgery," I might go that route to discourage speculation about mental health conditions (the stigma may be wrong, but it exists) and to make it clear that rescheduling is not on the table. Combining some scripts above, "My doctor has advised that I have some minor surgery to resolve a medical condition--nothing serious but I'll need N appointments which can be scheduled ahead." As other people have pointed out, you have no obligation to say anything beyond "it's something medical"--but if you don't mind giving a tiny bit of detail, that might help you out.

Orthogonally, I'd suggest framing your explanation as "I don't want you to worry, so I want to make sure you know in advance that I'll be out for medical reasons during these times." Let the focus be on whether they should worry (no) rather than whether they should object (also no).
posted by cogitron at 6:28 PM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I second all of the above advice, and will add a little from experience. When I had my egg retrieval done (close to the same process up through implantation) the early morning scans were super early (they have to be first thing) and super quick- like 7 am for 10 minutes. So this shouldn't interrupt your job unless you travel frequently and need to affirmatively ask to stay put for awhile.

The retrieval is a bit trickier because it isn't scheduled that far in advance- the scans will indicate when it's time. But if you go with the above scripts for that and the implantation (a medical procedure and a follow up visit, no deets necessary), you should be fine.
Good luck!
posted by susiswimmer at 6:38 PM on June 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


I had this exact same issue when conceiving my currently 8 year old precious baby boy. You do just as all above have advised..... You have a medical issue that needs to be attended to, you may need more time off / flex time but they don't need to know the details. In eight years, when he puts a worm on your pillow....(happened today) you can share the details. Best of luck!!!
posted by pearlybob at 6:40 PM on June 24, 2015


I'm in the US so adapt as necessary for your local labor laws, but here's what I said: "I have a chronic medical condition that does not affect my ability to do my job, but it is chronic and I am trying to get it resolved. My doctor has recommended an intense course of treatment that will require several appointments over the course of a few weeks. I'll do my best to do my appointments outside of working hours (my doc offered early morning appointments) but I am at the mercy of his schedule. Other than the appointments, it shouldn't affect my workload (which was true, I was able to get all of my work done despite the time off). I will be happy to provide a doctor's note for my time off if you need it for my file."

I left it at that. In the US employers are not allowed to ask specific questions about medical conditions. Luckily my boss was cool and didn't require a note or press me any further, but it helped that I have a good reputation at work and that my workload was not affected. I held off announcing my pregnancy long enough that he never put two and two together, at least not that he mentioned to me.
posted by vignettist at 6:50 PM on June 24, 2015


But I'm wary of disclosing exactly why, for probably obvious reasons.

It's not really obvious to me. I know this is the type of thing people often keep private, and it's certainly your right to keep it private if you want to. But why would it be a bad thing just to tell people what's going on? When I was going through IVF, I told people at work about it, and I was glad I did. It's so much less stressful not to have to try to keep a secret or to wonder what people are thinking when you have to miss work. When IVF worked but then I had a miscarriage, people knew about it and that was a good thing. I didn't have to pretend everything was normal and people were kind. And then when I got pregnant and stayed pregnant, everyone was extra happy for me.

Maybe you're worried that people will question your commitment to your new job if they know you're working hard on trying to get pregnant. But if they don't know what's going on they may question whether your mental or physical health is going to keep you from performing well, or whether your "doctor's appointments" are just made-up excuses. And everyone will feel awkward around you because they'll wonder what's up but won't feel they can ask, and that will make you feel awkward. I suggest you at least consider just being open about the whole thing.
posted by Redstart at 7:29 PM on June 24, 2015


I can see Redstart's point that full disclosure can be a relief; however I would weigh this against the fact that you would be putting your IVF treatment on the table for discussion. And then be prepared for frequent questions about whether it worked this month or what stage you're at or whatever status update.

We're it me I would follow the advice to say nothing more specific than a course of medical treatments. For me personally, it was something I wanted to keep private while I went through it; after the fact I'm fine discussing it but that's my comfort level. As for your work itself, you will likely have no trouble keeping up your current level of work, and some collaborative meetings will just have to be scheduled around you. That's nothing to apologize for or to be worried about.
posted by JenMarie at 8:55 PM on June 24, 2015


Maybe you're worried that people will question your commitment to your new job if they know you're working hard on trying to get pregnant. But if they don't know what's going on they may question whether your mental or physical health is going to keep you from performing well, or whether your "doctor's appointments" are just made-up excuses.

I don't know about the UK, but in Australia (where a lot of systems are modeled on the UK versions), we usually have to present a doctor's certificate after a grace period of a certain amount of sick leave a year (I think I get one unexcused absence a year). The certificate doesn't state the reason, just the amount of time the person is/was unable to work. So for example, for your trigger shot or whatever, you give your employer a heads-up that you'll be missing an hour in a few weeks (with the language people have suggested above) and then when it happens, you notify your supervisor, then document the sick leave with the signed medical certificate furnished by the doctor's office for the hour or whatever of work you missed. People in my workplace and my doctors have been pretty clear that my private health information is mine to share or not as I see fit.

I understand wanting to keep it private, and I also understand wanting not to feel secretive or furtive. But this really isn't anything you're obliged to share, and given the way that people in general are relentlessly intrusive about pregnancy and parenting, it's probably worth figuring out how to set boundaries now about the stuff you can keep private. You're being private, not furtive, and that's your right. (Probably. If the UK is like Australia this way.)
posted by gingerest at 10:35 PM on June 24, 2015


A warning about getting a doctor's note - I did that and my employer promptly googled the doctor's name on the letterhead, saw that he was a fertility specialist, and proceeded to publicly ask intrusive questions. Your employer is not my employer, but my advice would be to get the note from your GP, if possible.
posted by subluxor at 11:05 PM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm a manager in the NHS. I know that in my NHS Trust:

* If an employee asks for time off work to attend medical appointments I am required to know something of the details and should ask to see appointment letters if it happens more than once. I am required to keep this as confidential as the individual wishes.

* If someone takes time off 'sick' then I have to ask a whole lot of questions and they are required to sign a statement certifying the details are true. If they are found to have lied about details then they can be dismissed. This isn't sick leave unless you are unable to work due to side effects. If you are pregnant by that time then a whole different set of rules apply about absence monitoring.

* Time off for medical appointments doesn't count as sick leave, it counts as time off for medical appointments and doesn't get counted towards absence monitoring procedures.

* We have a particular policy for IVF that allows additional time off, so you may benefit from telling your line manager if your workplace has a policy about this.

If you are set on not telling your manager, you could try being vague and if they are politely insistent then you could politely ask to re-jig your hours on those days.

Good luck!
posted by kadia_a at 11:25 PM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


But I'm wary of disclosing exactly why, for probably obvious reasons.

-- It's not really obvious to me.


Employers will sometimes discriminate against women who are planning on having children. In the UK you have to have had a job for 6 months to qualify for paid maternity leave. The employer might decide they want the poster gone before that point so they don't have to deal with the maternity leave.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:39 AM on June 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


Another thing that may happen is you get an invite to a welfare meeting if you say you have a chronic condition. I would avoid that sort of terminology and stick with the vague medical issue that is being easily corrected- nothing to worry about.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 5:31 AM on June 25, 2015


* We have a particular policy for IVF that allows additional time off, so you may benefit from telling your line manager if your workplace has a policy about this.

This is a good point from kadia_a; is there a way you can find out if your workplace has such a policy? Employee manual or anonymous HR inquiry? I do get why you'd want to be careful before alerting your employer, particularly in light of the 6-month qualification for maternity leave.
posted by JenMarie at 9:05 AM on June 25, 2015


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