Can HR fire one half of a divorced couple?

Divorce rates were rising even in pre-COVID times, but may be worse post-lockdown. Should HR worry about it?

Can HR fire one half of a divorced couple?

More marriages ended in divorce last year, according to the Singapore Department of Statistics (Singstat).

And unfortunately, 2020 has not been kind on couples either — the Jakarta Post reported that the divorce rate increased significantly in parts of Indonesia soon after the government eased COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

The spike was also seen in China post-lockdown, with divorce filings seeing a rise just as couples emerged from quarantine, reported Bloomberg.

Though Singapore hasn’t revealed any figures from this year, the latest findings from Singstat is indicative of a common trend here.

READ MORE: Can you fire an employee without giving a reason?

While divorce may be a personal process altogether, if the couple had met or worked together at the same company, the issue may become something HR would have to deal with.

With divorce rates rising, what does this mean for the workplace? What can HR legally do to keep the peace in the event that a divorcing couple are co-workers?

If personal conflict between divorcing couples spills over into the workplace, you may be faced with the unpalatable task of choosing one employee to keep and one employee to terminate.

If youre planning on firing one of the ex-spouses to maintain order, a local employment lawyer told HRD that you can protect yourself from legal risks by putting in a termination for convenience clause in their employment contracts.

With the clause, companies can choose to exercise its contractual right by giving contractually stipulated notice period or payment in lieu,” she said.

The company does not have to give any specific reasons for the termination as long as the company has complied with the contractual requirements for termination at convenience.”

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An alternative is putting married couples in different departments.

In some Singapore companies, couples working together or in the same department is considered taboo,” she said.

But the discretion is left with the company, she added, as there are no clear laws in Singapore prohibiting a company from developing its protocols, policies, and guidelines in relation to its hiring process and company regulations on the conduct of personnel in the company”.

Ultimately, she said HR shouldnt worry too much about a divorced or divorcing couple in the workplace because in her experience, if they are uncomfortable working together, generally one of them would voluntarily quit even before the company needs to take action. 

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