Egg-Freezing: Is it Truly an Employee Benefit? (Frozen Series, Part 1)

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James Wu

Claudia Castillo

Claudia Castillo

In January 2015, Apple became the next large Silicon Valley high-tech company to offer a new employee benefit: Covering the cost for cryopreservation, i.e., paying for women to freeze their eggs. Facebook rolled out a similar benefit to its employees in 2014.

Though it is possible (and likely) that other companies, law firms, financial services firms and other employers offer, or are analyzing whether to offer, egg-freezing benefits, Apple and Facebook are leading the way.

According to NBC News, Apple and Facebook provide up to $20,000 to eligible employees for egg-freezing costs. Employees may also use this benefit to help pay for infertility treatments and sperm donors, and Apple also helps with adoption costs.[1]

The egg freezing procedure can cost up to $10,000 and storage of the eggs is around $500 a year. According to an article in the Ms. Magazine blog, fertility expert Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, founder of The Fertility Institutes, has explained that women in their 20s freezing their eggs could expect success rates of 65-90 percent, women in their 30s, a 50-78 percent rate and those in their 40s, only 5 to 15 percent.[2]

Thus, to increase the probability that the process will lead to a pregnancy down the road, it is recommended that women go through the egg freezing procedure twice (to freeze 20 eggs)—an estimated cost of $20,000.

An Attempt to Recruit and Retain Employees…

Like most benefits offered by employers (401k plans, group insurance plans, free meals, ping-pong tables and dry cleaning services), cryopreservation and fertility benefits were rolled out to attract and retain top-notch employees.

As noted in its press release, Apple stressed that it continues “to expand [its] benefits for women, with a new extended maternity leave policy, along with cryopreservation and egg storage as part of our extensive support for infertility treatments. … We want to empower women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families.”[3]

Per Ms. Magazine blog, and the National Center for Women & Information Technology, “56 percent of women in tech leave midway through their careers, double the rate at which men leave the industry. The desire to raise families is a major factor in this.”[4]

Indeed, “[a]nything that gives women more control over the timing of fertility is going to be helpful to professional women,” said Shelley Correll, a sociology professor and director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. “It potentially addresses the conflicts between the biological clock and the clockwork of women’s careers: The time that’s most important in work, for getting your career established, often coincides with normal fertility time for women. This can potentially help resolve that by pushing women’s fertility into the future.”[5]

… Or an Attempt to Avoid the Bigger Issue?

Some critics of these new benefit policies point out the seemingly obvious attempt to avoid (or delay) focusing on the overarching issue of promoting career AND family life vs. promoting career and delaying family life.

Simply, in part due to a “biological clock” and in part due to societal pressure, in the United States the typical family/workplace paradigm has been that a woman must delay her career to raise a family. As a result, many view egg-freezing policies as a “band-aid,” rather than the hyped panacea.

While the Family/Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Pregnancy Disability Leave law help to require time off from work pregnancy and childbirth, neither require that the time off be paid. Furthermore, once these protected leaves are exhausted, parents are often left with limited options for daycare should parents/guardians return to work. And thus, most often it is the woman/mother who ends up delaying her career to raise children.

Thus, critics of Apple and Facebook’s new benefits point out that more realistic and practical benefits should be offered, like on-site daycare, increased benefits for covering daycare costs, and more workplace flexibility to allow additional telecommuting. And, perhaps the best recruiting and retention tool for women would be for the company to hire more women in the first place.

And, unfortunately, while egg-freezing sounds like a great new high-tech option, the actual process and success rate should not be glossed over. According to CNN.com, “to stockpile eggs in the freezer, women self-inject powerful hormones for several weeks before undergoing outpatient surgery. In the short term, women face risks from the drugs and egg retrieval procedure.[6] As for the long term, there are zero longitudinal studies on the health effects of exposing women’s bodies to fertility medications. And because of high failure rates, even if women go through all this trouble, fewer than 3 in 10 will end up with a baby.”[7]

A Professional Woman’s Perspective

How do successful professional women feel about employers offering cryopreservation as a benefit? It is a heated debate and opinions vary, but a physician who opted for cryopreservation several years ago, and who knows at least two other women in the medical field who chose to do the same, said she would have jumped at the chance to take advantage of such a benefit if her employer provided it.

Instead, she personally paid $22,000 for two egg-freezing procedures. While costly, time-consuming and somewhat uncomfortable, for her, the procedures were worth it.

The physician shared that her professional ambitions had nothing to do with her choice to freeze her eggs, and this was also not a factor among the other professionals she knows who have undergone the procedure. Rather, all three women shared the same concern: Not having a suitable partner in their “prime” childbearing years.

While not all three were single at the time (2 were in relationships), they were not interested in becoming single mothers and likewise had no interest in rearing a child with the wrong person. They exercised their choice to freeze their eggs until they met Mr. or Mrs. Right, fully aware that the procedure does not guarantee a child.

In the physician’s opinion, offering a paid benefit for cryopreservation empowers women by providing them with options. Many women face the stress and anxiety of the clicking biological clock, but some are unwilling to start a family without a good partner. Egg-freezing, while not guaranteed to work, offers women some piece of mind they would not otherwise have.

As the doctor points out, cryopreservation is less expensive than in vitro fertilization procedures later in life. And, if she is unable to become pregnant naturally when she is ready, she likes having eggs from her 30s available to her. The quality of the eggs, she points out, is of paramount importance because it decreases significantly once women hit their 40s.

Potential Legal Issues?

Egg-freezing itself also may raise many legal concerns. For example, in employment law: Will managers/supervisors have knowledge that a woman has gone through the egg-freezing process (or fertility treatments); will such knowledge influence work assignments, promotions, salary adjustments and/or lead to some sort of stigma against the employee?

When discussing possible issues in the workplace, the physician we interviewed encourages egg-freezing as a benefit for employers to provide but added that laws should be in place to prevent coercion and also that anonymity is important to prevent favorable treatment or retaliation.

Due to the low probability of success, women should make an educated choice. And, anonymity may be difficult because the procedure itself could require some women to take time off for work, as she had to, without disclosing the reasons why. She opted for taking a week off from work each time she had the procedure performed. She had the flexibility for this, but expressed concern over women who do not have that option.

The legal implications also carry over to issues of privacy law, property law, estate planning and probate, family law and others that are beyond the scope of this article.  However, the Contra Costa Lawyer magazine would love to see this discussion continue and encourages and welcomes comments below. Please let us know your thoughts on egg-freezing as an employee benefit, and your take on any of the many legal implications.


For nearly two decades, James Y. Wu has provided employment law advice and counsel, and litigation representation, to employers of all sizes. James is a member of the CCCBA Board of Directors, and former President of the CCCBA Employment Law Section. Learn more at www.jameswulaw.com and http://www.linkedin.com/in/jamesywu/.

Claudia J. Castillo has been practicing law for 14 years and provides bilingual services in English and Spanish to companies across all industries with regard to their employment law matters. Claudia serves as the Secretary of the Economic Empowerment Fund and volunteers with the San Francisco Bar Association’s Volunteer Legal Services Program. Learn more about Claudia at http://jameswulaw.com/about-claudia-castillo/ and www.linkedin.com/in/cjcastillo.


[1] “Perk Up: Facebook and Apple Now Pay for Women to Freeze Eggs,” Danielle Friedman, NBC News, Oct. 14, 2014

[2] “The Cold Truth Behind Silicon Valley’s Egg Freezing,” Anita Little, Ms. Magazine Blog, Oct. 22, 2014

[3] “The Cold Truth Behind Silicon Valley’s Egg Freezing,” Anita Little, Ms. Magazine Blog, Oct. 22, 2014

[4] “Women in It: The Facts,” Catherine Ashcraft, Ph.D. and Sarah Blithe, National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), April 2010

[5] “Facebook, Apple Pay for Egg Freezing, Sperm Donors,” Barbara Ortutay, The Boston Globe, Oct. 15, 2014

[6] Egg Freezing, Mayo Clinic, Jan. 17, 2013

[7] Age-specific probability of live birth with oocyte cryopreservation: an individual patient data meta-analysis, US National Library of MedicineNational Institutes of Health, May 24, 2013

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