At least seven big international firms in the Netherlands will pay for female staff to freeze their eggs as part of their fringe benefits, current affairs programme Nieuwsuur has found.
Costs related to donor sperm, extra IVF treatment, surrogacy and adoption also fall under the “fertility benefits” offered by McKinsey, Hubspot, LinkedIn, Uber, Salesforce, SurveyMonkey and Google, Nieuwsuur said.
The practice is commonplace in the United States, where 40% of big employers pay for fertility treatment and 20% pay staff to have their eggs frozen,
In the Netherlands the basic health package pays for most fertility treatments but donor sperm and extra rounds of IVF are not included.
“I understand it in the American context where the government is not offering much to support families and where workers’ health insurance depends on the job. But for the Netherlands this is a new phenomenon,” professor of social policy Mara Yerkes told the programme.
Fertility benefits come with ethical considerations, Yerkes said. “This is not a bicycle plan, a lease car, or money for a computer.”
One criticism that has been levelled at the trend toward egg freezing in particular in the United States is that it puts pressure on women to delay motherhood.
According to Lucy van de Wiel, who teaches at King’s College, London, and is the author of Freezing Fertility, American research has shown that fertility benefits are often a feature at companies where staff are pressured into working hard and take no time off to have children.
Most companies Nieuwsuur approached did not want to go into detail about the fertility benefits they are offering staff in the Netherlands, apart from IT firm Salesforce.
“We think people who feel well, work well, that is why we are offering this. There is no quid pro quo, such as having to work at the firm for at least another two years after treatment,” HR manager Nikki Brouwer said.
Egg freezing to benefit the company is not something that applies to Salesforce, Brouwer said. “We also offer benefits that support parents who want to have children, such as a six-month leave for both new fathers and mothers.”
It is important to guard against possible negative effects of fertility benefits, Yerkes said “The line between work and private life is becoming blurred. It looks as if there are no strings attached but we must not forget that this is a contract between an employer and an employee. This type of fringe benefit underlines the dependency relationship between the two.”
Van de Wiel said fertility benefits may also increase social inequality if more IVF treatment becomes available to a specific group of people. “That wouldn’t be in line with the principles of Dutch healthcare,” she said.
If firms are offering this type of benefit in the Netherlands, there should at least be a discussion about responsibilities for government, employers, and workers, Yerkes said. “We have to discuss questions such as the ethics of the benefits, and the role of government,” she said.
Caretaker social affairs minister Karien van Gennip told the programme she had not heard about fertility benefits. “I would recommend staff to keep work and private life separate,” she said, “but if an employee wants to talk about including this with their employer there is no law to say they can’t.”
Egg freezing is becoming more common in the Netherlands and there are several private clinics offering the service to women who want to delay having children or who have not found the right partner yet.
Many hospitals and private clinics offer the service to women up to the age of 40 but there are long waiting lists.
Freezing your eggs for medical reasons, such as undergoing cancer treatment, is generally covered by health insurance.
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