Tonya Johnson, age 39, is single, happy and freezing her eggs to buy a little more time before she starts a family.
The procedure is costly — as much as $15,000 for one egg freezing cycle with medication — putting it out of reach for many. But Johnson works for one of a growing number of companies in Canada offering egg freezing as an employee health benefit.
“I spent the bulk of my 30s focused on my career, but I’d like to have a family one day,” says Johnson, the communications lead for Canada and Latin America at Snap Inc., the company behind social media app Snapchat. “It just hasn’t happened yet for me. Egg freezing provides a real sense of freedom for me and a feeling of control over my fertility journey.”
Fertility preservation — or the freezing of eggs or sperm — is being offered by some employers as part of an expanded suite of fertility and family planning benefits. Experts say the additional health coverage gives some companies an advantage in a tight labour market with worker retention and recruitment.
“I work with a lot of women in their 30s who say they feel their biological clock ticking,” says Cindy Marques, a certified financial planner and director at Open Access, a group retirement plan provider. “They often want to start saving to either freeze their eggs or for possible in-vitro fertilization down the road and it’s certainly not cheap. Having a workplace that offers some coverage for these procedures would be a significant financial benefit.”
Still, Marques cautions that workers should be aware of the ongoing fees following a procedure and be prepared to shoulder the cost should they leave their company. Egg storage is often free for several months following the retrieval procedure, but can cost as much as $50 a month or $600 per year.
While egg freezing is gradually becoming more mainstream in Canada, only about five per cent of companies offer fertility benefits that cover the procedure compared with roughly 40 per cent in the U.S., according to a report by national fertility organization Fertility Matters Canada.
Technology companies are leading the way, particularly those with large U.S. parents like Apple Inc., Google and Meta Platforms. Snap is among the most generous, with workers eligible for up to $65,000 in fertility and adoption coverage through Carrot Fertility and up to $130,000 towards surrogacy expenses.
Canada’s banks and telecommunications companies are also upping family benefits. Scotiabank, for example, covers up to $10,000 each for fertility, adoption and surrogacy support, while Telus Communications Inc. pays for up to $15,000 in fertility costs including egg freezing.
Cisco Systems Inc. launched sweeping family planning benefits in 2020, providing workers with up to $50,000 for fertility expenses, including the harvesting, freezing and storage of eggs, sperm and embryos.
“We spend a lot of time listening to the needs of our employees and what they’re looking for and this is certainly something that has percolated up from that,” says Shannon Leininger, president of Cisco Canada. “When you look at attracting and retaining talent, it’s more than just a paycheque people are looking for. People that are starting families want to work with a company that shares their values and allows them to have some flexibility to plan their career around their family and not the other way around.”
Meanwhile, Johnson — who completed her first egg retrieval in November — is planning a second cycle this spring. “I’m doing this twice, so that could have been as much as $30,000 out of pocket if I didn’t have coverage. It’s a huge benefit to have an employer that actually cares and is willing to support me in this.”