Managing Employees with Personal Financial Problems

April 23, 2008

The economic downturn affects businesses but also impacts the daily lives of employees. An employee’s personal financial problems can lead to bankruptcy, foreclosure and even divorce, any of which may impact his or her job and job performance.

Businesses must be prepared to respond to employee performance issues created by financial problems. Employers should be aware of legal limitations placed on their actions with regard to an employee’s financial problems. In addition, human resource professionals should appreciate the relationship between their performance management program and other resources to address employee issues created by financial distress.

Pennsylvania and federal laws limit actions employers may take against employees that file for bankruptcy or are subject to wage attachments. Many employers, particularly those in the financial sector, face customer relation problems when one of their employees doesn’t pay his or her bills or files for bankruptcy. Legal limitations on employer responses are as follows:

  • Employee BankruptcySection 575 of the Bankruptcy Act protects employees and applicants from discrimination if an individual:
    • is or has been a debtor under this title or a debtor or bankrupt under the Act;
    • has been insolvent before the commencement of a case under the Act or during the case but before the grant or denial of a discharge; or
    • has not paid a debt that is dischargeable in a case under this title or that was discharged under the Act.

Courts have limited the reach of this provision by requiring that the discrimination be "solely because" of the individual’s bankruptcy participation.

  • Worries About Temptation for Theft. Businesses may become concerned that an employee in financial distress may be more likely to embezzle and react by trying to find out the scope of an employee’s credit problems. The Fair Credit Reporting Act limits an employers use of employee credit information. A business’ usual financial controls should be uniformly applied, but, if inadequate, should be revised for all employees.                                 

Financially distressed employees may exhibit other performance problems ranging from declining productivity to depression. The usual performance management system should be utilized to correct deficiencies; however, special attention should be paid to other resources like the EAP and  Debt/Credit counseling. Some businesses may wish to go further. Susan S. Windham believes that Financial Distress for Employees Means Lower Profits for Employers. She advocates workplace financial education as the answer.