Custody Battles that Hold Your Company Hostage

by : Charlotte Hardwick



Child custody? How'd that get to be an employer's concern?

When an employee faces child custody litigation, it will effect their ability to do their job. And it often causes legal consequences for their employers as well. Unless you know where to draw the lines regarding your legal obligations and exposure, you could find your employee's custody difficulties costing the company in a variety of ways.

Custody problems have a major impact in the workplace, where they effect other employees, as well as hurting the bottom line. Worse yet, they can be disruptive in the workplace for a long time. Unlike other kinds of employee stress, a custody dispute could keep creating turmoil until the employee's youngest child turns 18. A matter may seem to be resolved, only to rise again years later as the child's circumstances change.

Financial Costs Add Up

The widespread effects of custody litigation on employers isn't a new issue. It's just that nobody has been noticing how many negative ways it creates problems in the workplace. But you need to, because the risks and harmful consequences to your enterprise of ignoring it are significant. When you consider the impact on other employees, your personnel policies, and financial exposure, this article should be a wake-up call.

Impact on the Employee's Performance

  • Absence for appointments with attorney, evaluations, court dates, etc.

  • Stress making them more distracted, and even ill (so more sick leave)

  • Co-workers having to pick up the slack, so they feel put upon

  • Unavailable for travel or extended hours

  • Involving other employees in the unfolding dramatic developments, which sidetracks them all from the job at hand

  • Likely self-medication with drugs or alcohol to deal with emotional strains

  • Depression, anger and other emotional spill-over on the job

Impact on the Supervisor or Employer

Extra supervision is usually required to compensate for erratic employee performance issues. Distracted employees aren't capable of doing their best work. Plus, you need to be vigilant as to how custody developments effect co- workers, and the extent to which they're pulled into the personal problems. Constant updating and consoling distracts everyone involved from their work. In an effort to be "understanding" it's easy for supervisors to fall into enabling behaviors, that are harmful both for the business and the employee. These could include:

  • "Covering Up: Providing alibis, making excuses or even doing the work rather than confronting the issue that they're not meeting their responsibilities.

  • Rationalizing: Developing reasons why their continued behavior is understandable or acceptable.

  • Withdrawing: Avoiding contact with the employee or their problems.

  • Blaming: Blaming others for the continued problem behavior or performance.

  • Controlling: Taking responsibility for their performance by moving them to a less important job (or reducing their obligations)

  • Threatening: Saying you'll take action (ceasing to cover up, taking formal disciplinary action) if they don't improve." Quoted from Win Your Child Custody War, Chapter 11.

Be Alert to the Company's Risks

The employer must never sacrifice company policy under such circumstances. It should already have policies in place to deal with these matters - and then stick with them. If the personnel matters are mis-handled, even for well-meaning reasons, the legal exposure would be costly in both dollars and time.

And don't overlook the related issues which put the company at risk: possible workplace violence (one need only pick up the paper), compromised company confidentiality (as private work-related matters are made public records through court submission) and accidents, which are more likely when a person is distracted. And that doesn't even address the costs related to lost jobs. (It costs approximately $125,000 to hire and orient a new employee.) Custody matters often trigger relocations or resignations.

No workplace is immune. Just because custody-related problems haven't come up before, it's unwise to disregard the headaches it can cause. Knowing the proper way to support the employee and where to draw the line serves them as well as the organization.

If you want to protect your business from being held hostage when an employee goes through a custody dispute, you need reliable information. Because the consequences to your operation could be crippling.