Supporting employees through divorce

Research recently produced by Resolution (a not for profit family law group) reports that businesses are suffering as a result of divorce and…

Research recently produced by Resolution (a not for profit family law group) reports that British businesses are suffering as a result of divorce and separation. The findings show that one in ten people in the UK have had to leave jobs as a result of their own separation, or have been aware of a colleague who has left their job for the same reason. In addition, 16% of respondents stated that they or one of their colleagues has had to take sick leave due to the stress of separation and a further 15% of people considered that separation had a negative impact on their productivity at work. These are stark findings.

Resolution is not the only organisation that has recently carried out surveys on this issue. In September 2014 Friends Life revealed that out of a study of 2000 adults, relationships were considered to be the third highest cause of stress after work and money.

The British Chambers of Commerce has emphasised the relationship between employee wellbeing and business productivity. When one considers the statistic that divorce is costing the British economy up to £46 billion every year coupled with the findings of continued research into this area, perhaps it is not a surprise that 34% of the respondents in the Resolution study considered that more needs to be done to provide support in the workplace for those involved in a separation or divorce.

In our experience one of the most distressing concerns for persons going through or considering a separation or divorce is the uncertainty they face regarding a number of issues including: the arrangements for the care of their children; what will happen to the assets; how much will they have to pay; how they should attempt to resolve the issues; how long will the process take; and, in some circumstances, how will they afford the full and proper advice they need.

The emotional pressure and time focussed on these issues places employees at all levels of a business under a great deal of strain and can be a significant distraction from their job, reducing productivity and often having a profound impact on their mental health both in the short and long term.

So what are some of the steps businesses can consider taking to support your employees?

  • Employee assistance services that offer confidential support, counselling and referrals;
  • Temporary changes/flexibility to working hours if necessary to accommodate changes to child care arrangements arising as a result of a separation. See our ‘Back to Basics’ guide to flexible working requests to help you process any applications for variable working patterns fairly and effectively;
  • Facility to take time off to seek legal advice; and/or
  • Signposting towards legal services.

The simplest steps can be the most effective. Regular catch-up chats with a designated point of contact should help an employee going through divorce to feel confident that their difficulties are acknowledged, understood and will as far as possible be accommodated by you.

It is of course of paramount importance that a person involved in a separation has clear information from a specialist family lawyer in relation to the troubling issues they may face. Our clients have reported that obtaining early advice on the breakdown of a relationship assisted them in managing the issues promptly and therefore minimising the stress and anxiety enabling them to start to move on with their lives.  There are a variety of methods of resolution available to assist in reaching a conclusion sometimes without the need to attend court. An early understanding of options available is invaluable.

An understanding and supportive employer coupled with all issues specialist family law advice can help an employee manage and minimise the stress associated with this life changing event.

Tania Derrett-Smith is an Associate in our Family and Private Client Team based in Birmingham.

If you would like to discuss what you can do to support divorcing employees and how Weightmans can help (or if you personally need advice), please get in touch with Tania (tania.derrett-smith@weightmans.com) or speak to your usual contact in the Weightmans Employment and Pensions Team.

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