Divorce can be ugly — for employers, too
Monday, February 02, 2015
No one ever sets out getting a divorce as a life goal. Unfortunately, though, divorce becomes a reality for an alarming number of married couples.
While divorce can be emotionally devastating for the individuals involved, it can also end up interfering with their jobs. This article will outline nine ways that employers can be affected by the divorces of their employees.
1. Lost focus on the job
Obviously, when employees are distracted by a divorce, they are not devoting their full attention to their jobs or tasks at hand. As a result, an employer may see a loss of productivity, errors or other side effects that harm the employer's business.
In fact, according to divorce expert Allan Gorman, it may take up to five years for employee productivity to rebound after a divorce.
2. Absenteeism and tardiness
The emotional trauma of a divorce takes a toll on employees and frequently causes them to miss work, be late or leave early from work. Additionally, increased child care responsibilities, court dates and meetings with lawyers or other professionals may take employees away from their jobs when they are getting divorced.
3. Domestic abuse or violence
Divorces are emotionally charged, and it is possible for an estranged partner to want to come into the workplace and act out on his or her emotions. Even if there is no workplace manifestation of anger or violence, employees can be victims or perpetrate acts of domestic abuse or violence off the job.
Whether such acts are on or off the job, the domestic abuse or violence can have a harmful impact on an employer's workplace.
4. Voluminous document requests
When divorce ends up in contentious litigation, the parties often attempt to bury each other with volumes of intensive written discovery. Current or even past employers can be drawn into this discovery nightmare by being compelled to respond to document production requests that can consume countless hours of the employer's resources to provide an adequate response.
5. Claims to ownership
In the course of a divorce, one spouse may claim that the other has stock options, shares or other equity interests in the business that employs them. In such cases, there may be extensive requests for production, inquiries or demands for an accounting or an appraisal or evaluation of the business or other efforts by the one spouse to interfere with or claim the ownership interests of the other.
6. Qualified domestic relations order
In addition to disputing claims of ownership interests in the employer's enterprise, divorce may also bring with it claims that one spouse is due half of the other spouse's 401k or pension interests. A division of these assets requires completion of a formal, legal arrangement called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) that sets forth the rights and interests of the divorcing parties.
7. Tax issues
All sorts of tax issues can arise in the course of a divorce. These issues may bleed over into the workplace.
For example, if one spouse fails to pay taxes that were due during the marital relationship or which may be addressed by the separation agreement, an employer may become involved in actions by the IRS or states to collect on or attach pay or other sources of compensation of one of the employees.
8. Garnishments or child support orders
It is not uncommon for divorcing couples to have financial difficulties, and their joint financial difficulties may give rise to garnishments or child support orders that are served against the employer. As a result, an employer may be required to complete copious amounts of paperwork and submit payments to the applicable court on behalf of the divorcing or divorced employee.
Moreover, if the employer happens to default on responding to a garnishment or a child support order, the employer may become liable in some states for the child support or the debt upon which the garnishment is sought in its entirety.
9. Insurance issues
Divorce is an event that may give rise to rights to convert certain medical or dental insurance benefits under COBRA or applicable state laws. An employer needs to have specific policies, notices, forms and procedures to make sure it complies with these employee benefits laws.
This article outlines just a few of the ways in which divorce can interfere with an employer's business. To minimize or avoid disruption of the employer's workplace and potential legal liabilities, employers need to anticipate and prepare for these inevitable disruptions.
Preparation can include implementing policies and procedures regarding absenteeism, workplace violence, employee benefits, QDRO, COBRA, garnishments, child support orders and related matters.
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