Divorce Leave Scheme
View from a Family Solicitor
I’ve been consuming with great enthusiasm the recent media coverage of a voluntary scheme which sees the family friendly policies of several large employers being amended to allow employees with children and who are separating from their partner, to have extra leave and flexible working. There is also a suggestion that they will be offered help to source and access support services by their employers.
Having seen first-hand the distressing effects separation/divorce have on people, I wholeheartedly support these initiatives. It was announced in Parliament that the following employers have pledged to take part:- Tesco, Asda, PWC, Metro Bank and Unilever.
I have been helping people through separation and divorce for over 30 years, and the upheaval and uncertainty that is involved by both parents and their children is one common thread that runs through these cases. Some are more impacted than others, but all would undoubtedly benefit from having flexibility and understanding in their place of work, while they are trying to adapt to a new way of life.
Working out where each parent is going to live post separation/divorce, when the children will spend time with each parent, whether the children will need to move schools, and adjusting family budgets, can be overwhelming for the most resilient parent, never mind having to balance life changing events with the pressure of performing at work, whilst trying to carve out time to produce all the financial disclosure and information required and respond to requests from their family solicitor.
There may also be occasions where the parents are required to attend mediation sessions or court hearings, which on their own can be stressful for the participants.
A large part of my work consists of providing the support that my clients need throughout their separation/divorce process, and this is not confined to the legal aspects. There is good reason why divorce is considered one of life’s most stressful events, after losing a loved one, and along with losing a job and moving. People need to be supported during this time.
Nicola, my colleague specialising in Employment Law gives her views on this initiative below.
View from an Employment Solicitor
Family breakdown can have a big impact on work life and prospects. In a survey of 200 workers conducted by the Positive Parenting Alliance to support the Divorce Leave scheme, the vast majority (90%) said their work performance was impacted when they went through a divorce, and 95% said their mental health at work suffered.
However, at present, very few employers have specific policies to cover employees going through a divorce or separation. Any requests to take time off to deal with the many issues arising from a separation/divorce would need to be taken as annual leave (or potentially as sick leave in some circumstances).
It then stands to reason, and feels like the “right thing”, for employers to recognise separation and divorce as potentially huge life events, which deserve recognition and support.
As Louise has mentioned above, certain employers have already pledged their support to the Divorce Leave Scheme. Those employers will add to their family friendly policies so that separation/divorce is given similar status to compassionate leave or serious illness. Employees will then be entitled to take “divorce leave” from work, request flexible working and access to support services if needed.
However, this process will not be without complexity. Businesses will need to decide the details. For example, will divorce leave will be paid or unpaid? How long should it last? Should extra time off be provided to divorcing parents with children? How will eligibility be determined? The downsides, then, are the administrative and financial burdens for the employer. Employers may also struggle to resource an extended period of divorce leave, particularly given the current difficulties of recruiting and retaining staff in many industries. These difficulties will need to be balanced against the benefits for workplace culture and employee wellbeing.
The Divorce Leave Scheme is voluntary and there is no indication that the Government intends to make it mandatory. Whilst many employers may feel that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, others may decide that a more flexible, case-by-case approach (relying on their existing family-friendly policies) is more appropriate for their organisation at present. Either way, the recent media coverage should serve to highlight to employers the importance of recognising divorce and separation as hugely significant moments in their employees’ work and personal lives.