Last month, we introduced you to our extended family, Connect Family Law, a boutique law firm doing family law a new way.
This month, we thought we’d continue the theme and share some things we’ve learned from the Connect team about the intersection of family law and the workplace. While the connection between the two might not seem clear at first, there are actually many ways that family law-related issues can impact both employees and employers.
In 2016, approximately 33% of marriages ended in divorce – and this number only increases if you include common law relationships that came to an end. Given these figures, it’s extremely likely that a business owner will have one or more employees go through a separation.
Most of us recognize that separation and divorce can be highly stressful, even traumatic. The transition that accompanies the end of a relationship can affect a person’s health, relationships and finances. It is often a time of upheaval and change, with separating spouses and their families needing both emotional and practical support.
As an employer, there are ways you can provide some of that needed support to a separating employee, and support your own business at the same time. Below we share four tips – some practical, some legal – for employers dealing with the impact of separation and divorce in the workplace.
- Be flexible. A separating or divorcing employee may need time off to attend appointments with a family law lawyer or appear in court. If she has children, her parenting schedule may have changed, requiring an adjustment to her work hours. While accommodating your employee’s new time demands may cause some temporary disruption to your business, remember that doing so can also engender employee trust and engagement in the long term. (For more on the topic of the flex hours generally, see our post here.)
- Be proactive. If your benefits plan includes sessions with an EAP (employee assistance plan) provider or coverage for psychological services, remind your employee of this – and, again, make sure to give him the time and space he needs to actually attend counselling.
- Be responsive. Employers should expect a number of possible requests (or demands) for financial information when an employee separates, including details about the employee’s earnings, pension, benefits and RRSP entitlements, to assist in the spouses’ division of their assets. Furthermore, if the employee is in arrears on any child or spousal support obligations, an employer may have to comply with an order garnishing the employee’s wages. In more severe arrears cases, an employee may be restricted from renewing a driver’s licence or passport, or even subject to imprisonment, with potential significant consequences to her employment.
- Be prepared. There are times when the “personality” dimensions of family law collide with the employment world, resulting in highly challenging situations for employers. These include circumstances where a non-employee spouse contacts the employer; co-worker spouses are separating or divorcing; or there are allegations of family violence between co-worker spouses. These are some of the most complicated interpersonal situations a business owner may face –the good news is, you’re not alone. An experienced employment lawyer has both the legal and people skills to help you navigate such challenges, and knows to seek the input of a family lawyer if and when necessary.
To learn more about how family law matters can impact your business, visit the Connect website later this Spring, when lawyers Leisha Murphy and Alex Boland will share a paper they have written on this topic for BC’s employment lawyers.