‘Divorce leave’ has hit the headlines after a number of UK companies agreed to introduce family friendly HR policies for staff going through divorce or separation.
Asda, Tesco, NatWest and Vodafone are among the employers who have voiced support for the scheme being promoted by the Positive Parenting Alliance (PPA) – a group of organisations and individuals who believe that children deserve a positive experience during parental separation or divorce.
The companies involved have pledged to change their HR policies to put separation on the same footing as other significant life events like family death or illness. This would entitle separating parents to flexible working, extra leave and help to access support services should they need them.
The PPA launched the initiative following a study which showed that nine out of 10 employees said their work was adversely affected when they went through divorce. While 39% said they had to take time off work during their separation and 11% stopped working altogether. With an estimated 42% of marriages in the UK ending in divorce, a significant proportion of the UK workforce will experience these issues at some point in their lives.
At the moment there is no legislation in place which compels employers to offer divorce leave. Any steps taken by employers to introduce such leave is entirely voluntary and is being implemented by way of changes to company HR policies, rather than as a result of any change in the law.
Having said that, the initiative might gain momentum. The PPA plans to launch a campaign in parliament calling on business and HR leaders to better support parents who are going through separation.
MP Siobhan Baillie and The Right Honourable Sir Andrew McFarlane who is President of the Family Division, and Head of Family Justice, are both backing the scheme.
The proposal does raise a number of questions; would ‘divorce leave’ be paid or unpaid? There is no legal right to paid leave for significant life events (sometimes called compassionate leave). It is entirely down to the employer. If divorce leave is unpaid, many employees would simply not be able to afford to use it or might instead rely on sick leave if they are struggling to cope. However, if it is paid leave, it might create an unreasonable burden on employers.
What about separating couples who do not have children? Would they still be eligible for divorce leave or is it just to assist separating parents? It would seem unfair if all employees couldn’t access the same benefits.
In the UK employees do already enjoy some generous terms including a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave, compassionate leave, parental leave, paternity leave and the soon to be introduced carer’s leave to name but a few. In my view, it’s important to strike a balance between looking after the welfare of staff and being an understanding employer, and not overburdening employers with unnecessary legal requirements.
Whether you are an employer who would like advice on reviewing your HR policies or an employee who requires expert legal support with divorce or separation, please don’t hesitate to contact our team by phoning our Stoke-on-Trent solicitors on 01782 205000 or our Altrincham solicitors on 0161 929 8446. Alternatively, you can email email@example.com.