Can you legally terminate one-half of a divorced couple?

by Lauren Acurantes29 Sep 2016
Recent data released by the Department of Statistics (Singstat) indicates that the number of divorces and annulments in Singapore have been steadily rising in the past two years.

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 works within the same company?

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 you’re planning on firing one of the ex-spouses to maintain order, Koh C-u Pinn, director at Arielle Law, said that you can protect yourself from legal risks by putting in a termination for convenience clause in their employment contracts.

With the termination for convenience 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.”

Koh also suggested taking a cue from other Singaporean employers and 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.”

Koh also said that HR shouldn’t 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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