Many people have experienced a relationship breakdown, be it separation or a divorce, often with significant personal consequences. It is understandable therefore that this time can be upsetting, stressful, emotionally draining and in some circumstances, all consuming. The effects can be far reaching, affecting a person’s ability to concentrate, make decisions or in some cases to work.
Upheaval and uncertainty are common, with some people being more affected than others, but undoubtedly, most would benefit from some flexibility and understanding from their employer and in their work environment whilst they come to terms with and adapt to their new normal.
As part of any legal process regarding separation, as family lawyers we appreciate that we often need to ask clients for a lot of information or documentation. This is sometimes at short notice, because the process requires a response to something quickly. The legal process and these kind of requests can impact upon a person’s day to day working life. There may also be the need to attend mediation or court hearings, which usually take place during working hours. Also, the effects of the lead up to a hearing, and following the hearing, can reach far beyond just the day of the hearing.
We regularly discuss with our clients many of the emotions that they are experiencing and the fact that these are very similar to the feelings and emotional stages of grief for the loss of a family member or close friend passing away. Employers can recognise and support employees going through this part of their lives more formally, by embracing a relatively new initiative to support their employees going through a divorce. They can do this by aligning their HR policies for Divorce Leave with that of compassionate leave or bereavement leave.
Research by the Positive Parenting Alliance, who propose this reform, found that 90% of separating or divorcing couples felt that their working lives had been adversely affected by their separation and their ability to undertake their job had been negatively impaired. This included slightly over 50% of those people fearing that they would lose their job at a time when they already felt like they were losing everything.
Under the proposals for Divorce Leave Scheme, employers are asked to:
Whilst the proposed introduction of Divorce Leave Scheme is welcome, it will not be without its complexities. Businesses are encouraged to incorporate divorce leave into their HR policies with employers asked to grapple with issues such as:
Liz Pollock who specialises in Employment Law at Raworths comments: ‘going through a separation and/or a divorce is likely to affect an employee’s performance at work and/or their mental health. Therefore, supporting employees during such difficult times, who may otherwise take time off sick, is likely to rewarded with loyalty and hard work in the long run. Employers will need to consider the financial and administrative burden of such a policy against the potential benefits on workplace culture and employee well-being.’
At this time, the Divorce Leave Scheme is voluntary however, the fact that the discussion is taking place and that there is more recognition of the impact of divorce and separation on the parties and their mental health is welcomed.
Joanna Lofthouse is a Senior Associate in Raworths’ Family law team and Liz Pollock is an Associate in the Employment team. If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this article, please contact Jo or Liz on 01423 566666
Published on 13 June 2023