Publish date

27 January 2023

Divorce leave for employees- Is this new initiative of real benefit?

With the Government intending to introduce, this year, the right to request to work flexibly as a day one of employment right, for all employees, amongst a basket of new measures that include:
•    Neo-natal leave and pay
•    Carers leave
•    Protection from being made redundant for 6 months after working mothers and fathers return from 12 months’ maternity and parental leave.

It is not surprising that some larger employers are embracing these new rights already and some are signing up to an initiative to support their staff going through divorce.

How are policies changing to support employees going through a Divorce?

It has been reported in Personnel Today on 25 January 2023 that Asda, Tesco, Metro Bank, PwC and Unilever have partnered with the Positive Parenting Alliance (PPA) to promote more family-friendly policies for employees going through a divorce or separation, starting on 26 January 2023. Family friendly policies can extend way beyond the usual flexible working requests, time off for family emergencies and shared parental leave rights that have been around a long while.

Why are changes to how employees going through divorce are treated at work necessary?

According to a survey by the PPA, 90% of employees admitted that a marriage breakdown impacted on their ability to do their job. There is some evidence that larger employers treat such breakdowns like any other major “life event”, like bereavement where employers have a supportive role to play for their employees’ welfare and well-being.
Whether it is:
•    The 95% of employees who say that their mental health suffered when they went through a divorce or separation
•    The 75% who felt less efficient at work because breakdown hit them so hard
•    Worse that they were amongst the 40% who needed to take time off to deal with issues surrounding the separation.

Relationship breakdown does have a significant and often devastating impact for either partner involved. It is widely recognised that the breakdown of a marriage or long term relationship is akin to a bereavement, with the individual often going through the same stages of grief.  Like any form of bereavement, it can take many months or years to recover from. In extreme cases more than half of employees going through the split up and the aftermath have feared losing their jobs and over 10% have had to give up work, because they cannot face the roller coaster of the breakdown and still provide their employers any value for what they are paid to do.

For many years, family lawyers and other professionals who support those going through a divorce or relationship breakdown, have been alive to the impact the loss of the relationship can have on the ability of an individual to properly function in some, or in extreme cases all, aspects of their lives.  For many individuals, it is one of the most traumatic things they will ever experience.

What sort of changes can we expect to see from employers?

Even though a growing number of employers surveyed have a specific policy for dealing with employees going through this kind of trauma, it is not clear what sort of help is provided. Potentially this could be an open-ended commitment of financial or other support measures needed for some, whose divorce journey can take at least 12 months and sometimes 2 or more years to end – with child care responsibility, child arrangements, financial support, division of family assets and housing issues all to be resolved.

Are there any other forms of support for employees experiencing a long or complicated divorce process?

For many employees facing these kinds of disputes it is all too much, they become severely depressed and anxious. If those 2 conditions are likely to or do have a substantial adverse impact on their day to day activities for 12 months or more, then they will be regarded by employment law as disabled and will have the protection of the Equality Act 2010, from reasonable adjustments to accommodate their disability to modification of performance management processes that might otherwise make their employment untenable.

How might implementing divorce leave benefit employers?

Employee life event policies that include partnership and marriage breakdown support measures, such as paid time off to attend family court hearings or counselling is a worthy investment for employers to make. Because support now to separating staff to help them get over the emotional and psychological damage they face, can help to rebuild their lives and provide a return on that investment; when they are back on their feet and feeling more positive about their future life.

If you have any questions about this topic, please get in touch and we will be happy to help.

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