Educational Resources

Should Divorcing Couples Get Time Off Work?

Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

According to University Hospitals’ “The Science of Health” blog, divorce ranks second on the list of “The Top 5 Most Stressful Life Events” (preceded only by the death of a loved one).

Now, as reported in a recent new article and in a leading  U.K. human resources website, divorcing parents in that part of the world may be getting some recognition of that fact – along with some tangible support in the form of time off work.

Under a new work model, participating U.K. employers will be required to change their Human Resources policies to make them more family-friendly, by formally incorporating the reality of separation and divorce.  More to the point, these HR-based policy changes are designed to acknowledge that to workers, the breakdown of family is as stressful as a death in the family, or a serious illness.

This novel approach is being promoted by the Positive Parenting Alliance (PPA), and is already being backed by some large U.K. employers such as Tesco, Metro Bank, Unilever, Aska and NatWest.  It was proposed after a PPA survey found that separation and divorce had a significant impact on workers’ efficacy and availability.  Specifically, from among the workers surveyed: 

  • 90 percent acknowledged their separation or divorce impacted on their ability to do their job
  • About 75 percent felt less efficient at work
  • 52 percent feared they might lose their job or would have to voluntarily quit
  • 95 percent also admitted that their mental health suffered

Time spent at work was also affected. Among surveyed workers, the PPA study found: 

  • 40 percent needed to take time off to deal with separation-related issues
  • 11 percent had to stop working altogether

The initiative involves a clear employer commitment to not only acknowledge the strain that family breakdown can put on workers, but also provide access to helpful resources.  According to the website Personnel Today, employers participating in this program must expressly commit to: 

  • Recognising separation as a ‘life event’ in HR policy so that those experiencing separation feel recognised and know they can access support.
  • Ensuring parents going through a separation have access to flexible working to enable them to manage school and childcare pick-ups and drop-offs whilst they reconfigure their family set-ups.
  • Giving employees access to, and pointing them towards, emotional counselling during this period.
  • Signposting and [providing] access to separation support services so that parents can have the guidance and support that they need to separate in the most compassionate and child-focused way.

This new approach has garnered the approval of one of the country’s most senior judges, Sir Andrew McFarlane, who is the president of the High Court’s Family Services division.  In commending the move, he echoes the notion that employers should treat separation as a “significant life event, like bereavement or serious illness”.  The Judge also remarked that “the immediate emotional impact of relationship breakdown is all consuming. It hits a parent at work just as at any other time.”

What are your thoughts on this initiative? Should Canada likewise adopt this sort of workplace measure on a widespread basis?

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.