Providing HR support for employees with relationship difficulties: a family law perspective

News / / Cardiff

When a relationship comes to an end - whether a couple is going through divorce proceedings or ending a period of co-habitation - it is well recognised that this can have a huge impact on a member of staff’s work life.

Unfortunately, most people find it difficult to leave their problems at the front door and sail through their working day as if nothing is wrong at home. In a time where more and more people are working from home – leaving these problems outside of work may be impossible – and difficulties at home may be physically present whilst working remotely.

Nevertheless, as the majority of people who experience a relationship breakdown are of working age - statistically, these events will affect most business on various occasions.

What are the common effects of a relationship breakdown on employees in the workplace?

  • Lack of focus;
  • Lack of concentration;
  • Reduction in performance;
  • Low morale;
  • Lower self-confidence and self-esteem;
  • Irritability with other staff members;
  • Increase in stress levels, and;
  • Swinging emotions from crying, becoming withdrawn, to shouting, behaving badly and out of character.

How does this impact the employers?

  • A reduction in productivity by the individual employee which can impact on wider team performances.
  • High levels of staff absenteeism due to sick leave and lateness to work.
  • High staff turnover with the loss of valuable employees.
  • Poor decision making by the employee
  • Increase in mistakes being made.
  • A lowering of staff morale amongst those who work with or alongside the employee

What can HR staff do to help their employees?

Employers have a broad duty of care to their employees to take reasonable steps to ensure their health, safety and welfare. Here are some of the ways in which HR staff can support an employee going through a relationship breakdown:

  • Create a safe and supportive space for employees; lend a listening ear and let them know they can come to you if they are struggling. Go at the employee’s pace - give them time and space to express their emotions and process what is happening to them. You are unlikely to hear the whole story in one go, so ensure the employee understands they can come back you as many times as they need.
  • Check in with the employee regularly and provide any wellbeing support you can to prevent them from developing any unhealthy work patterns. Stay aware of any unhealthy work patterns that develop which could impact on their wellbeing. These can include working late frequently, not taking lunch breaks and not communicating with work colleagues. Once these patterns are identified, put strategies in place to help the employee move away from these unhealthy behaviours. Although HR teams will have to deal with and address work performance issues, this should be done in a way that supports the employee’s wellbeing and emotional needs.
  • Where possible, offer flexible working arrangements to help the employee during the early stages of the relationship breakdown as they adjust to new personal circumstances.
  • Support the employee to ensure they get good quality legal advice from a specialist family lawyer, and signpost and increase their access to other services that they may need. This could include domestic abuse support, counselling/therapy, health-related services and financial advice.
  • Be mindful of alternative services that may need to be signposted to for individuals who have an ethnic minority background, in same-sex relationships, from the LGBT community or those who have a disability. Reduce these barriers to accessing help by signposting the most suitable options for the employee and their individual needs.
  • Recognise that each person will deal with and respond to a relationship breakdown differently. Therefore, as HR personnel, you will need to adapt your approach and polices to the individual person’s needs.
  • Keep track of any new or existing government initiatives that can help staff during a time of crisis. For example, on 14 January 2021 the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy published Research and Analysis on Workplace support for victims of domestic abuse (found at The report considers: the impact of Domestic abuse on individuals and employers; what best practice looks like; the role employment rights can play in giving employers and employees the certainty they need, and; the annex that provides resources for employers and employees.
  • Maintain positive support throughout - it will have been difficult decision for many employees to come to their employer and share very personal and often distressing issues that they are having to deal with. Therefore, it is important for the employee to know they have the support from HR; someone to listen to them and provide help when they need it most. Keep any information you learn confidential and always treat staff fairly and equally.
  • Put together a policy or plan – which works for both the employer and employee - which sets out the dedicated support an employee can expect to receive at the various stages of  a relationship breakdown and when looking to the future.. There should also be a separate section in the plan outlining any policies relating to employees who are victims of domestic abuse. It should also consider situations where an employee experiences relationship breakdown and/or domestic abuse from another employee at the same company.
  • Work on any issues closely and collaboratively with the employee. Remain professional when maintaining the standards expected from staff whilst taking a compassionate, careful approach.

What are the benefits of a good HR approach to an employee’s relationship breakdown?

The benefit of providing this level of support is enormous to employers. Early intervention by employers and HR teams – who are trained to spot the signs of difficulties that employees face with a relationship breakdown and/or domestic abuse - will provide the protection and support the employee requires to bring positive changes to their lives at home and at work.

This will have a lasting positive impact for the employer and their business – and it lets your staff know that you take their wellbeing and safety seriously.

Ince can provide support and guidance to employers and HR personnel on your duties, responsibilities and caring role you have to your staff.  We can also provide legal support for your employees to form part of the package of solutions you can offer your staff. .

To get in touch with our Family team, email to see how we can help you and your employees.


The information above is not and should not be taken to be legal advice. You should not take action or omit to take action based on this information.

If you require any help on the issues raised above, please get in touch using the details above.

Susan J Williams

Susan J Williams Partner and Head of Family Department

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