How Can Employers Support Employees Through Divorce or Separation?

24th January 2024

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by Natasha Gilding, Paralegal

As a good employer, you will always have your team’s wellbeing in mind.  This can, and should, extend to being supportive whenever you realise that someone is going through a family break up.  So, what can you do in practical terms?

The most important thing is usually to be flexible where possible. Legally, employees have no automatic right to time off work, paid or unpaid, to deal with the fall out of a family break up. The effect of a relationship breakdown can be very different from one person to another, depending on the circumstances. For instance, some people will have new childcare regimes to adapt to, while others will need to find time to seek legal advice or attend court, or may be having counselling in some form.

As an employer, you have the opportunity to consider whether your existing patterns of flexible working are sufficient to allow for this. If not, might you offer some discretionary paid time off to attend meetings or court hearings? Or could you offer to vary someone’s contract to allow for new childcare responsibilities?

The rules on flexible working are changing with effect from 6 April 2024, which will make it easier for employees to request a new working pattern which suits their new family situation.  There are several alterations to the rules, including the right to apply for flexible working immediately after starting a role and the right to apply for a change of hours twice instead of once in any 12 month period.

Understanding the impact that the stress associated with family breakdown may have is equally important. Many employees’ performance suffers when they are going through divorce or separation.  As their employer, you should look for solutions to help the situation rather than ignoring it and hoping it will improve in due course.  Resolving any performance-related problems informally is generally the best approach. A temporary reduction in hours or work load are sometimes good options.

During the course of a divorce, your team member may need to produce financial documents relating to their income such as copies of their payslips or a P60. If they ask you for these, providing them in a timely manner is important and helpful. They may also need to update policy documents that you have arranged for them, for example if you provide health insurance cover which extends to their spouse. Some people will seek legal advice straight away, while others may opt to begin their own divorce proceedings on line. It is important that even those who choose to handle their own divorce seek early legal advice in relation to their financial position, regardless of whether or not there are any jointly owned assets.

Employee loyalty and motivation often have more to do with how people are made to feel at work than about the reward package on offer. Looking after your team members and their well-being at all times is important, but particularly if they are going through a family breakdown or other stressful life event such as bereavement.

Fraser Dawbarns has specialists who can help with all aspects of both employment law and family law.  Contact Natasha Gilding on natashagilding@fraserdawbarns.com for employment advice or Rebecca Woodley on rebeccawoodley@fraserdawbarns.com for family law advice.

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