Traditionally, each year, the first week of January is renowned for the highest number of divorce filings in the year. This is not a decision which people take lightly and coping with a breakup is far from easy. They say that moving house, marriage, divorce and death are the four greatest stresses anyone will go through. This stress needs to be taken seriously, but what is the impact on the workplace and what could / should employers be doing to support employees going through a breakup?
In my interview with Stuart Miles on BBC Three Counties Radio last week, I was asked whether employers needed to provide staff with compassionate leave as a result of a breakup:
As a general rule, I think not.
As employers, we need to treat each person as an individual. You have some people who, in the early years of employment, might go through relationships on a very regular basis and then you have other people who split after 30 or 40 years of marriage. These people all need to be treated as individuals and having a blanket policy saying that you get x amount of time off after a relationship breakup is not going to be helpful to anyone.
It’s one of those situations where, you have to look at your company policy, you look at your company culture and you do what’s right for the individual and for the business.
There are pitfalls as you need to be careful not to discriminate based on marital status, age, gender or sexual orientation, but most companies already have adequate sickness and leave policies which would support employees in need of some time off. If you start writing a policy to try and combat every single scenario, you’re going to end up with a rule book that nobody reads and everybody will be too scared to make a decision. Line managers need to take an informed decision based on the individual circumstances.
If there is a sudden break up triggered by a specific event, the employee is not necessarily going to be in a fit state to go into work the next day. They need to follow the company sickness policy and call in sick.
Most companies will allow an employee to self-certify for up to 7 days. After this time, if the employee is still struggling, they need to seek professional help from their GP. They may be signed off sick, prescribed some counselling, or even some medication, but this is a medical intervention and one which the employer needs to manage as such.
If an employee comes into work, they need to be well enough to work and that means mentally, as well as physically. That said, there is little point in sitting around at home feeling sorry for oneself as that will not resolve anything. In some instances, there is ‘stuff’ to do, perhaps even find somewhere to live. Communication is going to be essential in these circumstances.
This again takes us back to the company’s normal policy on sickness absence, sick pay and performance management. If an employee is not performing, they need assistance and support and the company should follow its normal policies, regardless of the cause of the poor performance.
Creating a new policy for a relationship break up, or the death of a pet etc. is just adding complexity and red tape for employers who are already reluctant to take on more staff. Most businesses have policies which can be used. If written properly, they will also have an element of director’s discretion which will enable them to apply the ethos, rules and culture of the company and it’s policies to other similar scenarios without the need to specifically predict every eventuality and legislate for it.
Donna Obstfeld (FCIPD) is the Founder and Managing Director of DOHR.
She regularly provides commentary on employment issues on the radio and in the press.
Donna provides business owners with Board-level HR consultancy, advising on function and strategy.
Donna is available to speak at conferences and provide expert comment by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org