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Work place support during family breakdown

08 November 2021 | Cecily Donoghue

Specialist lawyers from our Family and Employment teams consider the level of work place support that can be offered by employers to employees during family breakdown.

Pro-active support

It is up to businesses to decide whether they wish to put formal measures in place to deal with employee family breakdown within the workplace, however an informal yet supportive approach is likely to be best, given the range of ways that a family breakdown can take place. However, being pro-active is always recommended as this could help reduce the impact the situation has on the business and the individual employee.  

A business can suffer as a result of an individual going through a family breakdown, because the individual’s anguish, stress and upset at home may spill into the workplace, which can lead to loss of productivity, disruption, stress and occasionally a job loss.

Family breakdown is a difficult time for an individual and they are likely to experience a range of emotions including denial, anger and grief. It is important that an individual seeks the legal advice they need at an early stage of family breakdown. This can help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety. An employer can be influential in encouraging an employee to seek the advice they require.

Performance issues

Employers are likely to be tempted to manage the individual’s performance rather than support the individual through their family difficulties. Whilst this may be legitimate in some circumstances, this can lead to disastrous consequences for the individual as family breakdown can be one of the biggest causes of stress and unhappiness in an individual’s life.  With this in mind, employers should be alive to the fact that potential under-performance issues may be caused by family breakdown and be pro-active and acknowledge the role that they are able to play in assisting their employees through this uncertain and distressing period.

Work place support during a family breakdown

Employers can have a big influence in ensuring that employees feel supported during this difficult time by responding effectively, sensitively and with compassion. It is sensible to ensure that your HR practices cover major life changes and that you create a working environment where employees are encouraged to share their concerns with their manager or HR.  Some practical steps that you could take as an employer to support your employee include:

  • In the short-term making allowances for the employee to attend any meetings with their family lawyer or mediation centre, court hearings and any other relevant time out of the workplace;
  • Refer the employee to any Employee Assistance Programme’s that the employer offer;
  • Take the employee to one side for an informal one-to-one chat and ask if everything is OK and whether there is anything that you can assist with at work;
  • Listen to them and wait until they have finished talking, you may be the only person there to listen to them;
  • Encourage the employee to seek help and support as necessary from their GP, divorce coach, therapist or family lawyer (it may be helpful to be able to signpost reputable professionals to encourage the uptake of support); and
  • Be mindful and understanding.

Flexible working

If your employee has children, be prepared to consider a request for flexible working (possibly on a permanent or temporary basis) to support any newly single parents with their childcare arrangements. There can often be interim child arrangements when there are ongoing court proceedings, and the final arrangements may be different. The limit to formal flexible working requests (once every 12 months) can be upheld, however an employer may wish to be more flexible and consider further informal requests as the final arrangements change.   

Levels of support during a family breakdown

If there are ongoing court proceedings, your employee may be required to provide full financial disclosure and you may need to be prepared to assist your employee by providing a letter or other documentation regarding their current employment situation, salary or bonus structure.

Although you can as an employer provide help and support, you must ensure that you do not become directly involved or make promises that you are unable to keep. Signposting the individual to other professionals that are well qualified in family breakdown is more likely to assist your employee in the long term.

This is a sensitive subject matter, and each employee will be different in the way they approach it and how it can impact their work life. Handling the situation in the right way will improve the working environment for that individual as well as the other employees.

Specialist legal advice 

If you are an employer looking for further legal advice in relation to an employment issue or would like to signpost someone towards expert family legal advice, please get in touch with our team.

For family or employment legal advice please contact our team by calling 0117 906 9400 or email

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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