There is currently no law in place compelling employers to give their staff time off to deal with divorce, or attend solicitor or mediation appointments and court hearings. Any measures an employer takes, such as offering divorce leave, are done entirely at their own discretion, and in reality, very few have specific policies to deal with employees going through separation or divorce. This article discusses divorce leave and sets out what you can do if your employer does not offer it.
Fundamentally, separation and divorce are going to affect your work life, whether or not you have told your colleagues and it is general knowledge. Divorce is not only difficult emotionally and financially but also time consuming, and trying to put on a brave face at work and pretending to be unaffected is likely to hinder your performance rather than help it. As already stated, employers are not legally obligated to offer adjustments in cases of divorce, but many are implementing new HR policies to deal with such life-changing matters.
Under the divorce leave scheme, are all employees entitled to days off to deal with their divorce?
As part of employments legislation, employees are entitled to time off work for life-changing events such as sickness and bereavement. This is commonly referred to in most workplaces as “compassionate leave”. Whether divorce can be considered for compassionate leave is a matter for each individual employer, but arguably, the effect of separation on the life of an employee should never be underestimated.
With this in mind, several high profile UK companies have agreed to introduce family friendly policies for staff going through separation or divorce. Asda, PwC, NatWest, Tesco, Vodafone, and others are among those who have shown support for the scheme, which is being promoted by the Positive Parenting Alliance (PPA). The companies have pledged to put separation on the same footing as things such as death or illness, and entitle employees to flexible working, additional leave entitlement, and help accessing support services.
What would my employer need to do?
The divorce leave scheme is entirely voluntary, and there is no sign that the government will enshrine the principals in law. However, under PPA proposals, employers implementing the scheme will be asked to:
- Recognise separation and divorce as a “life event” within their HR policies
- Allow access to flexible working enabling divorcing employees to manage things such as school and childcare
- Give employees access to support services and counselling if required
Each business will need to adapt their policy to suit their industry and consider whether such leave will be paid or unpaid, how long should it last, and how eligibility will be decided. Employers will also have to think about how they will resource an extended period of leave, especially given the current employment difficulties surrounding retaining and recruiting staff. Such issues will need to be finely tuned, and balanced against the benefits for employee wellbeing and workplace culture.
What if my employer does not have a divorce leave policy?
In the absence of any divorce leave policy, the way in which an employee going through divorce or separation is treated depends on their employer’s approach, which could lead to inconsistencies from person to person.
Perhaps you will have to take annual leave to cover your legal appointments or court hearings, or take unpaid leave and make the hours up later. If you expect having to take time off work, you should be upfront with your line manager, HR department or employer and let them know what is happening. Going through a divorce naturally takes its toll, and an appreciation of the situation from your employer can help enormously.
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