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Time off work for break up & divorce

Submitted By Dennis Marshall :

Jobs can be stressful at the best of times, fulfilling work commitments while separating from a partner is bound to add to the strain. But you will be able to cope if you follow some simple steps.


Firstly, if you work for a big company, find our from your personnel officer officer what support is on offer to employees going through a major crisis. Also your company’s options for going part-time, working from home, turning your job into a job-share, taking a period of special leave, or – as a last resort – voluntary redundancy.

If you work in a small business, you may be tempted to sacrifice your needs. This might store up greater problems in the longer term. So don’t ignore your needs ‘ try to present a compromise. Maybe take a week’s holiday, start late, leave early, etc.

Be realistic about what you can do. You may be able to handle some parts of your work but not others in the short term

The boss

After you’ve checked out your options, tell your boss that you are going through a separation, or divorce. Do it before you are faced with the possibility of accounting for a dip in your performance, or before you have to ask for time off at short notice. Tell your boss in a practical, matter-of-fact way, explain the situation in unemotional terms and outline how you propose to deal positively with the impact of any fall-out on your work.


Telling colleagues you are close to should be relatively easy. Who to tell exactly might depend on which colleagues’ support and understanding you would need if the going got rough, or which of your colleagues would have to step in to cover workloads for you from time to time.

They are likely to be sympathetic, but you may experience awkward reactions from some colleagues – few people are sure of what to say in moments of great trauma. Once people have learnt to deal with their feelings around your break-up relationships will revert to normal.


The Employment Rights Act says workers can take reasonable (unpaid) emergency time off for dependents, for example, if the care arrangements for a child have been unexpectedly disrupted or ended.

If you are stressed, or depressed, and need to take time off, a medical certificate from your doctor will ensure you can take paid sick leave.


Some companies have good work-life employment practices , which include special arrangements to make caring for children easier. Check out your terms and conditions of employment.

When, what and how do I tell my boss and colleagues?

Tell your boss after you’ve spoken to the personnel or human resources department about your options. Outline your proposals for how you are going to deal positively with any work you cannot do. Tell your boss about your situation in a matter-of-fact way and in unemotional terms. Colleagues should be easier to tell but they may react awkwardly, unsure of what to say to you.

How do I negotiate a change in my working arrangements?

Speak to your personnel manager or line manager about the options on offer. If you’re self employed, you will have to rearrange your working arrangements yourself, maybe call in some extra help, subcontract work, take on fewer clients.

Do I have a legal right to time off in a crisis?

You can get a medical certificate from your doctor, if you are depressed or stressed. That will ensure you can take paid sick leave. The only legal right to time off is under the Employment Rights Act which allows workers unpaid emergency time off for dependents. If you’re self-employed, you are, of course, likely to have a little more control over rearranging your working arrangements.

Next Steps

  • Contact all relevant advice and support organisations.
  • Decide when, what and how you are going to tell your boss and colleagues.
  • Draw up a plan of action about alternative ways of doing your job: in reduced hours; working from home; working fewer but longer days; as a job-share, etc.
  • Discuss, with your ex-, in detail how the children are going to be cared for with the minimum of disruption, to them and to you
  • Reduce a possible source of stress by drawing up an emergency childcare plan, of what to do if your normal arrangements let you down.

Need to Knows

  • Check out your legal right to any special leave as well as revisiting your terms and conditions of employment
  • Get expert advice about how to positively negotiate alternative ways of working, if needs be, before going to see your boss
  • Make sure your boss and human resources personnel appreciate the confidential nature of your discussions with them
  • Prioritise workloads, with a view to ditching any unnecessary causes of stress
  • Work is also therapeutic, it can provide a break, a chance to get a perspective etc. Be careful not to underestimate the importance of your job in providing you with a structure when other areas of your life feel in flux.
  • Have everything you can delivered to your home, including food.

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