Employees are not legally obliged to inform their employer if they are going through a separation or divorce, but many decide to do so because they may require additional support during the process.
Being honest with your employer about personal circumstances that might affect your performance at work is a good idea. Perhaps your relationship has contributed to late attendance recently or other issues have developed. Odds are, your employer has certainly noticed a difference, but when and what should you tell them? This article discusses your options.
When should I tell my employer about divorcing?
If you are nervous about telling your employer or line manager about the divorce, think about confiding in a trusted work colleague first. This will ease your nerves and make you feel less isolated. Perhaps you know of a colleague who has been through a similar experience and told your employer, consider asking for their advice. At the very least, your employer will appreciate you coming to them with details of how the divorce may affect your work performance.
What should I say to my employer about my divorce?
If you have been experiencing emotional or physical abuse over a long period of time, you’ve probably become masterful at hiding it from others, and may not be aware of the effect your separation is having on your performance at work. Briefly tell your employer what is going on and what you need from them to maintain your mental wellbeing and health; let them know the circumstances of the divorce may impact your job and you may need time off for legal appointments or to deal with any hearings.
Consider the unique demands of your job. Some roles require skills of concentration and care, whilst others don’t. Be honest about the effect the separation and divorce is having on you, and if necessary, ask for adjustments to be made. Can you do a different job if you are struggling, even only temporarily?
Most employers will understand everyone has problems in their personal life they need to deal with from time to time. Ask about any support available; they might have access to counselling or other services that can help you. Your employer doesn’t need to have all the gory details, so simply letting them know you are going through a divorce which is likely to involve time away from work for appointments, and may mean you will not be as switched on as you are in calmer time will be all they need to know.
If you have changed your address or bank account details, let them have this information and check your employment contract for any other responsibilities they have towards you regarding your change of situation.
What divorce support can I ask my employer for?
You may consider asking your employer for the following:
A flexible working request
An employee can request flexible working after they have been employed by their employer for at least 26 weeks. However, only one request can be made in a 12-month period, although some employers offer less restrictive schemes or may be open to additional requests in order to help you through a difficult time.
You could request a change to your working hours, the times you work or where you work. A request should try to address any potential effects on the business and how these could be dealt with. A further consideration is whether the request you are making is for a temporary or permanent change to your employment contract.
Your employer must consider your flexible working request and give you a decision within three months. They can refuse a request on business grounds or insist on a trial period. There is very little scope to challenge a refusal, and no legal mechanism for an appeal.
Parental Leave Request
This can be used to cover time off to look after your children, although it is unpaid and therefore, in reality, you may not be able to afford to take it. Employees are entitled to 18 weeks parental leave per child up to them reaching the age of 18 provided they have at least one year’s service. An employer cannot refuse to let you go on parental leave, but in certain circumstances, can postpone the leave for up to six months.
What can I do if my employer is not supportive?
If you think your line manager/employer will be unsupportive, consider:
- Approaching the HR department if you have one, or someone responsible for pastoral care. Can you discuss options with them instead?
- Does your employer have any relevant policies on their intranet or in the staff handbook? Look for sections dealing with time off or other support entitlements.
- Are you a member of a union? If so, can the union rep support you if you need to make a request for flexible working?
- Can you access counselling or support via your employer? Many employers actively encourage staff to engage in therapy; is your employer one?
Although employers are not legally obliged to make adjustments or offer alternative working for employees going through a divorce, if they dismiss an employee for performance issues after disclosing their situation, the employee may have grounds to make a claim for unfair dismissal.
Practical tips for telling your employer you are going through a divorce
- Inform your employer at an early stage. This will help them understand your situation and highlight any relevant employment policies that may help you, such as offering divorce leave.
- Give your employer the key dates for hearings if you have them and request these days off as soon as you can. Ask your employer if it is possible to limit your work commitments in the run up to these dates.
- Ask for time off during critical points in the case, such as for preparing financial disclosure and statements.
- Let your employer know you may need to take time off for mediation or counselling. Although employees do not have a general right to time off for medical appointments, your employer has a duty in law to consider making reasonable adjustments if your condition meets the definition of “disabled” within the Equality Act 2010, and this includes mental health and wellbeing.
- Make any request for parental leave or flexible working as soon as possible.
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