The 2013 Divorce: An Employer's Guide To Employee Productivity

By Harry Siegel
January 2, 2013
Posted in: LEGAL

The impact of divorce on businesses remains quite strong. On the one hand, employers watch their employees suffer through long, protracted, expensive litigation. Some cases linger for years. Many create emotional scars, leaving the employer with either a less productive employee or no employee at all.

On the other hand, divorce can be big business. Divorce attorneys continue to earn a great deal of money by representing their clients. Houses are sold and purchased, so real estate brokers profit from divorce.

Accountants, financial planners and financial experts are necessary in virtually all divorce cases. Psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists and custody evaluators are often involved, especially in contested custody and visitation proceedings. There are virtually always issues of every kind of insurance, as well as purchasing new items for houses. The list goes on and on.

Communities rarely take a step back and realize how much of the local economy is both positively and negatively affected by divorce. With divorce rates approaching 50 percent in many localities and with so many nonmarried couples having relationships, children and shared homes requiring court intervention, it is absolutely no wonder why businesses market the services they can provide to the divorcing community.

So, how does an employer get the best of both worlds? On the one hand, should an employer offer support to a divorcing employee? On the other hand, how can employers profit from the rapidly growing divorce industry? Since we all know how different industries benefit from the divorce process, let's focus on the former.

Employer Support

Let's take a deeper look at how employers can help their business's bottom financial line when their employees are mired in divorce proceedings.

Many employers already have employee support in place. A very few employers actually provide prepaid legal services plans to their employees, enabling the employee to obtain an attorney. Even fewer employers actually will pay a portion of employee divorce expenses. These are quite rare.

Increasingly, employers provide health insurance plans that include significant employee mental health benefits. Some employers provide access to health clubs and gyms.

The newest benefit on the horizon in 2013 will be employer contribution to the mediation costs for employees going through divorce and family law proceedings. Let's think about this for a minute. The average court case takes 12-18 months. Some do not last quite that long, but we all know of cases that appear to last for years — and they do.

Throughout this process, the employee will miss dozens, if not hundreds, of hours from work. When that person is at work, he becomes heavily distracted when divorce issues creep into the workday. Other employees could be drawn into the person's very real problems.

Become Part Of The Solution

How can an employer try to become part of the solution and gain back the valuable employee?

First, alert your employee to the counseling benefits provided by health insurance. Second, offer to provide referrals for mediation to your employee. The purpose of mediation, especially early mediation, is to try to quickly resolve all or most issues that are either contested or could become contested if the divorce case becomes protracted.

As an employer, you say, "Not my problem," or "That just seems so over-reaching." You can certainly take that approach, but think about this. When you are looking at your quarterly and year-end profitability reports, consider how encouraging your employees to resolve their family law matters quickly and effectively saved you from losing weeks or months of productivity in your office.

Small- and medium-sized businesses are easily the most affected by employee divorce, since the divorcing employee's skills are usually unique and valuable. Doesn't the thought of no empty desks, no need for outsourcing of work and a far happier workplace sound inviting?

If it does, then the next step is how to properly offer this assistance to your employees without appearing over-reaching. Obviously, you do not want to barge into your employee's office and say, "Hey, you are going through a divorce. I do not want you missing time from work, so get into mediation and work it out — now!" (no matter how sorely tempted you are).

Funding Mediation

There's another alternative. Add the availability of certain benefits into your firm's employee manual. Try the following out for size.

"Recognizing that employees may go through painful, personal proceedings such as a divorce or other family law proceedings, and recognizing that our company benefits from your continued employment without outside distractions, employer agrees to fund mediation costs for the employee in an effort to assist its employees in moving forward with their lives in a timely and productive manner.

"Therefore, employer will offer a one-time benefit of up to $500, either paid directly to a Maryland certified court mediator or reimbursable to the employee upon presentation of a proper receipt after mediation. It is the employer's sincere hope that the employee will take full advantage of this benefit to try to expeditiously resolve divorce or family law proceedings effectively."

As employers, we have an opportunity to help heal our employees. In turn, we get a better-focused employee whose real-life issues are quickly and effectively resolved. It is the proverbial win-win situation. The employee gets a valuable benefit. The employer gets the expeditious return of its valuable employee.

Harry Siegel, Esq., is a practicing divorce and family law attorney, as well as a divorce mediator. He is the principal attorney at SIEGELLAW. He can be reached at 410-792-2300 or hsiegel@siegellaw.net.