Supporting separating and divorcing staff: what employers should know


Several major UK employers have signed up to an initiative by the Positive Parents Alliance (PPA) to support staff going through a divorce. It follows PPA research that found that 9 out of 10 employees (of 200 surveyed) felt separating with their partner had affected their ability to do their job. The initiative includes:  

  • recognising separation as a life event in HR policies;
  • providing access to flexible working for staff going through a separation; and
  • signposting and giving employees access to counselling and other support services.

What obligations do employers have when their staff go through a divorce? 

It is not a legal requirement for organisations to have formal policies on supporting divorcing or separating staff. However, since it will affect many staff, having a policy may help to ensure a consistent and fair approach.

A consistent policy may also reduce the risk of discrimination claims, which could arise from divorce or separation. For example:

  • Divorce and separation are likely to affect childcare arrangements. An indirect sex discrimination claim could arise where a woman's flexible working request for childcare reasons is rejected. This is because the law recognises that this practice could disadvantage women who are more likely to have the burden of childcare responsibilities.
  • The PPA also found that 95% of employees reported that their mental health at work suffered following a family breakdown. A mental health condition may constitute a disability under the Equality Act 2010, if it has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on an employee's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. If the employer knows of the disability (or ought reasonably to know about it), they will need to consider whether reasonable adjustments should be made.  

What can employers do to support their staff? 

  • Allow workers to have additional time off, whether as annual leave or unpaid leave (compassionate or other). Employees with children under 18 may also be able to take parental leave providing various requirements are met.
  • Provide access to flexible working and accommodate requests to enable employees to reconfigure their family settlement.
  • Offer benefits such as periods of leave or counselling services.
  • Signpost to support services.
  • Update policies to recognise that divorce is a major life event.

Research shows that initiatives aimed at supporting workers promote productivity and improve workforce morale (thereby reducing staff turnover). Employers would therefore be prudent to consider the changes they could make to support workers going through a separation. 

The results of our YouGov survey on the correlation between relationship breakdown and the workplace (Relationships and the workplace) also highlighted that prevention is better than cure, and that equipping employees, particularly those in high pressure jobs, to better manage the conflicting pressures of work and family life on their time is important for the wellbeing of both the individual and company.

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