Info & Advice

What support can employers give staff during their divorce?

Request a Free Consultation with a Solicitor

Divorce is a life event that is considered as being one of the most challenging and stressful things someone can experience, so it is no surprise that the shock waves can infiltrate the workplace. If you are lucky and work for a more enlightened employer, they may take the time to understand the needs of divorcing employees and anticipate any potential risk areas.

The decision to separate, and ultimately divorce, sets in motion a train of events and specific difficulties that need to be dealt with. The emotional distress of the relationship ending and helping children deal with the changes in their lives are common, but there is also potential for uncertainty if a financial situation worsens.

Legal assistance is likely to be required to formalise the divorce and to negotiate post-divorce financial or child arrangements. In terms of the impact on an employee, there are several things to consider. The increased emotional and financial anxiety may lead to issues surrounding mental health. In the workplace, this can affect performance, as employees may find it difficult to deal with their usual workload and there may also be a decrease in their quality of work. Another risk is sickness absence or repeated absences to attend solicitor appointments. So what steps can employers take to help employees going through a divorce?

What are the legal obligations of employers?

There are no specific laws that outline employer obligations towards employees going through a divorce, although there are several legal frameworks and protections that indirectly affect how employees must be treated whilst undergoing such personal circumstances.

Employees have a right to privacy and employers must handle any information about an employee’s divorce confidentially and sensitively. Respecting an employee’s privacy is vital, so employers must ensure that any discussions about the divorce are initiated by the employee.

Under the Equality Act 2010, there are several anti-discrimination laws and employers cannot discriminate against employees for being married or in a civil partnership. This protection could extend to treatment related to changes in these circumstances, such as a divorce, dissolution or separation. It is essential to make sure that employees going through a divorce are not discriminated against, which means providing equal opportunities and support as would be available to any employee experiencing personal difficulties.

Whilst divorce affects both sexes equally, employers should be mindful of sex discrimination against women in the workplace, particularly those facing a divorce. This may manifest in reduced opportunities for promotion, scepticism over their commitment or capability, or inequitable treatment compared to male colleagues, especially in terms of workplace flexibility, for example.

Employees have the right to request flexible working arrangements, which an employer must address reasonably. This could have particular relevance to someone going through a divorce, especially regarding childcare or altered personal circumstances. Employees are also entitled to reasonable time off to deal with emergencies involving dependents. Although not directly related to divorce, it can apply to connected urgent matters, such as childcare or dependent care, being disrupted because of issues caused by separation.

Employers also have a duty of care to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all their employees. This includes considering the impact of stress or mental health issues an employee could experience during a divorce.

Although going through a divorce or dissolution is not in itself a protected characteristic, dismissal or detrimental treatment of an employee because of their marital status changing could potentially lead to claims of unfair dismissal or discrimination.

What are employer tips for supporting a divorcing employee?

Here are our tips for supporting a divorcing employee:

  • Additional paid and/or unpaid leave

Sorting out a divorce takes time, an employer could offer additional leave to deal with flash points such as court hearings, moving house or settling children into new schools.

  • Working patterns

An employer could consider offering a flexible arrangement to help the employee accommodate legal appointments, child pick-ups, or counselling sessions. Allowing more frequent breaks may also help if they need to make a personal call.

  • Altering the work

Ways to reduce the burden by reallocating some responsibilities for a period of time, may assist. Although any changes to an employee’s job role should be agreed with them in advance of the change taking place.

  • Wellbeing support

Allocate a quiet space, if possible, where employees can take a short time away from their workspace. Appointing a mental health first aider so an employee has someone to confide in may be of benefit. An employee assistance programme is also worth consideration, as these usually including counselling services and legal assistance.

  • Financial support and benefits

Divorce is very likely to place an employee under significant financial stress. Think about whether the employer could bring forward a pay rise or bonus, or make a one-off hardship payment. Perhaps an interest free loan would help, or offering to suspend repayments on an existing loan. Could they commit to improving employer pension contributions to help rebuild a pension which may be split in the divorce proceedings?

  • Reasonable adjustments for disability

If the employee is suffering with mental health issues, it would be sensible to consider whether they are disabled. With their permission, seek advice from your occupational health team (if you have one) and explore whether reasonable adjustments can be made.

  • Open communication

Encouraging open communication in line with the employee’s changing needs, such as a change in team dynamics, can also be beneficial.

  • Be proactive

Don’t wait for an issue to escalate. If an employer notices changes in an employee’s performance or behaviour, offer support and resources proactively.

  • Document everything

Keep records of any discussions and agreements made regarding adjustment to the employee’s work arrangements.

In cases of serious deterioration in performance or conduct, or a particularly lengthy absence, an employer may have no option but to begin a formal process. The issue should be considered within the context of the employee’s overall employment record. Showing compassion and remembering that the acutely difficult phase will not last forever will help an employee get to a new normal sooner rather than later.

Related Articles

Load More

Podcast: Listen Now