Divorce can be a traumatic process that leaves both parties facing a range of issues and stressful situations.
In response to the disruption caused by divorce, a number of companies across the UK have updated their HR policies to support staff experiencing divorce or separation by providing additional leave.
Vodafone, Tesco and NatWest are just a few of the companies to hit the headlines by offering divorce leave as part of an initiative promoted by the Positive Parenting Alliance (PPA).
The PPA conducted research prior to the development of this scheme, which found that 39 per cent of staff had to take time off work during their separation, while 11 per cent of employees stopped working entirely.
This network of organisations and individuals is trying to change divorce to ensure that children have a more positive experience during parental separation or divorce.
The introduction of such schemes within these large businesses has left other companies wondering whether they should be doing more for their staff.
What is divorce leave?
Those who have signed up for the PPA initiative have committed themselves to putting divorce and separation on an equal level to other significant life events, like the death of a relative or the birth of a child.
They have amended their HR policies to give separating parents:
Those adopting these policies hope that the additional support will allow staff to manage their affairs, support their children and get back to work quicker.
Do other businesses need to provide divorce leave?
There is currently no legal requirement for employers to provide divorce leave to employees. Whilst the PPA may be trying to encourage more organisations to implement similar policies, this initiative is entirely voluntary.
The PPA has the backing of The Right Honourable Sir Andrew McFarlane who is President of the Family Division, and Head of Family Justice and MP Siobhan Baillie and is intending to launch a campaign to encourage Parliament to enshrine this leave in law.
Until then, there remains no right to paid leave for significant life events. Instead, any paid leave granted is down to an employer’s discretion.
Thankfully employees in the UK employees already benefit from:
The UK will also soon introduce carer’s leave, which will give carers in employment the right to take unpaid leave.
As a result, in most businesses and organisations staff will need to rely on sick leave, where the separation has demonstrably affected their health, or use their holiday leave entitlement. Some employers may also be willing to provide unpaid leave, but this is at their own discretion.
What do family lawyers think about this recent development?
We spoke with our own Head of our Family and Relationship Team, Alison Green. She said: “Divorce and separation are often one of the most distressing events in a person’s life. Many employees continue to try to balance their work alongside this process and it can create significant distress and affect their ability to work effectively.
“Divorcing couples also often require a lot of additional days leave to deal with the administration of their separation and face a high degree of financial uncertainty, with many couples facing the prospect of moving or losing their home, as well as arranging access to and care of their children.
“The introduction of dedicated leave for separating couples seems like a step in the right direction, but it must be balanced against the commercial realities of running a business.
“Where employers can offer additional flexibility and support this should be welcomed, but this won’t always be possible. Work arrangements are something that separating couples need to consider and something that they should discuss with their employer.”
Not every employer will have the capacity or flexibility to introduce divorce leave, but they do have a responsibility to care for the health and safety of their staff, which extends to their welfare and mental health.
Employers are ever more mindful of the importance of engaging with employees through these life-changing events.
Supporting employees at critical times in their lives reflects good values and a positive and supportive work culture thereby maintaining an inclusive and engaged workforce.
Employers will generally be understanding of the complexities and difficulties of divorce, and many will be willing to take a compassionate and pragmatic approach, often without the need to formalise this in new HR policies.
However, if employers would like to explore the formal introduction of divorce leave within their organisation, they should seek professional legal advice.
If you have any queries about divorce leave or would like advice on supporting employees through divorce, please contact Alison Green by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling +44 (0) 20 7240 0521.