My boss hates you too

January 3, 2012

Pannone says employers are financing employee divorces

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The term ‘divorce lawyer’ likely conjures up a host of images. Perhaps it’s the now legendary ‘Ditch the bitch’ advert, conceived by London law firm Brookman back in 2001. Or it’s George Clooney ‘making a killing in divorce’ as fictional lawyer Miles Massey in the Coen Brothers film Intolerable Cruelty.

Whatever the mental leap, it’s difficult to get away from the unsavoury reputation lawyers have won for themselves in the divorce courts.

But it seems that UK divorce lawyers may now be associated with an altogether kindlier phenomenon. And one emanating from a rather unlikely source: employers.

Supporting employees through divorce

According to Manchester based law firm Pannone, bosses of small British businesses have started supporting their employees through the emotional fall-out of divorce by covering some – or even all – of the considerable legal costs.

Five years ago, the law firm had never come across an employer contributing towards the legal costs of divorce. But since then, the firm describes a ‘marked increase’ in employers putting up funds for an employee’s divorce, with the number of such cases doubling in the past three years.

The firm describes the employer rationale as a “gesture of commitment and support”, which enables employees to sort out personal problems as quickly and effectively as possible, while keeping their “career on track”.

The support makes sense in the context of the obvious and serious repercussions divorce can have on an employee’s concentration at work and productivity. If by helping to fund a divorce, the company regains the full focus of talented employees more quickly – and engenders their long-term loyalty to boot – then it’s surely money well spent.

Perhaps law firms will even start offering it themselves.

Avoiding a backfire

However, both employers and law firms may have to be a little careful with this new partnership in facilitating divorce.

With some employers reportedly paying for an employee’s initial advice sessions with a divorce lawyer, a cynic might begin to wonder just how involved the company is. Is it really just supporting an inevitable divorce? Or is it actually pushing an employee – who has become distracted at work by an unhappy relationship – towards resolving the problem (and saving their job) via divorce?

The ‘Ditch the bitch’ advert referred to earlier, encountered exactly the same problem. The firm strenuously denied that it was encouraging people to get divorced, but the advert was slammed for being distasteful at best.

Pannone of course is only pointing to a market trend. But law firms and companies may have to be careful with how they publicise such a development, especially as we enter the new year and lawyers enjoy their annual upsurge in clients whose new year resolution is a post-Christmas divorce.

Get it right and divorce lawyers may both get a few more clients and a reputational boost off the back of this more caring and supporting employee initiative.

Get it wrong, however, and companies and law firms may risk being seen as an unholy alliance of home wreckers. CP


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