Not all types of discrimination are obvious. These days, we’re pretty vigilant for signs of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or religion. It’s pretty hard to miss the most typical types of sexism. We’re all working hard to identify instances of disability discrimination. But unless an employer is particularly obnoxious, marital status discrimination is incredibly easy to miss.
In a highly moral/immoral society, marital status bias is also surprisingly common. Employers are human, and we all have our own opinions about relationships. On one hand, there are people who feel that marriage is a sign of maturity. On the other, there are wildly independent (and single) people who distrust the joint decision-making of a married couple. And everything in between. While these opinions are quirks in your social life, they can be devastating if a manager or business owner’s personal feelings about marriage and relationships starts to impact their policies.
Recognizing Marital Status Discrimination
Here in California, workplace discrimination based on your marital status is illegal. Your employer is not allowed to make decisions based on whether you are or are not married, or who your spouse is, or whether they like your spouse. The key to ensuring a fair workplace is to spot marital status discrimination when the signs are evident.
To do this, it helps to know the different ways that this kind of problem has happened in workplaces already.
Employers who want to squeeze the most possible value out of their employees are actually more likely to discriminate against married people. Married employees have someone to go home to, possibly children to spend time with before bed. They will want predictable weekday hours with minimal late nights and weekends.
Young, lonely, and otherwise unattached employees are more ‘valuable’ because they can work nights and weekends more often. Their holiday schedule is less demanding and there’s no one at home to point out when work-life balance has gone out of whack. So some employers hire single people more eagerly because they are easier to give difficult hours and overtime. This is definitely a form of marital status discrimination, also called family obligation discrimination.
The Family Hours
Some employers have the same presumption about family time, but a different approach to discrimination. Instead of only hiring unmarried people, they give preferential hours to the employees who happen to be married. Those with a spouse and/or children are given the most reliable hours and almost never scheduled for weekend shifts.
While this sounds great, problems occur when shifts are distributed unfairly to unmarried people. If someone who asked for a predictable shift, but is unmarried, is given random weekends and late-nights so that married people can always have the good hours, this is another form of unfair treatment. Based on marital status.
The Maturity Test
Managers who are traditionally conservative may see marriage as an important maturity step. This is perfectly normal, but in effect they see married employees as more mature, and therefore more trustworthy and personally developed, than unmarried employees. In workplaces like this, people who are married are more likely to be promoted into positions of authority. Especially managerial positions over others. While unmarried people are kept in team-member and specialist roles where personal maturity is not as emphasized.
This may also result in employers that pressure their single staff members to get married. So that they can promote them. In this way, discrimination isn’t malicious at all, but it does deny single people (and those in non-traditional relationships) from promotion opportunities.
Join us next time for the second half of this two-part article for three more types of marital status discrimination and how to spot it in the workplace. For more information or a friendly consultation on your employer’s behaviors, contact us today!