Discrimination in the workplace can affect almost anyone who works, and unmarried employees are no exception. Whether you’re a single mom or never have been married or have had children, your employer may at times single you out and treat you differently than your coworkers – though not in a good way. If you ever feel discriminated against at work because of your marital status, you may have some legal rights to stop it.
Ways Employers Discriminate
Marital status discrimination comes in many forms, with some more subtle than others, but it generally results in single employees being denied certain rights or benefits just because they’re unmarried or raising a child on their own. Common types of discriminatory acts that single workers face include constantly being delegated heftier workloads than colleagues who have families, consistently being chosen for business travel because you’re considered more “available” or even being denied a promotion because your boss views you as a little less stable than her married employees. Your marital status may also be the reason you can’t take advantage of many of the benefits your employer offers if the majority of them are geared toward married employees and those with children. Some typical examples include not being offered alternative benefits while your coworkers receive subsidized health insurance for their entire family, free on-site daycare and flexible work arrangements. However, whether or not you can do anything about the discrimination depends on the type of employer you work for and the state in which you’re employed.
Private Sector Employees
With approximately 40 percent of the work force in this country comprised of unmarried individuals, you’d think that some federal laws exist to protect them from marital status discrimination. But if you work for a private employer, none of the federal anti-discrimination legislation that exists apply to unmarried employees. As a result, you have no legal rights or cause of action to sue your employer in court under a federal statute -- but you may under a state statute.
Federal Government Employees
If you work for any branch of the federal government, however, the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 does protect you from discrimination by a federal employee with personnel authority if it results in you being exposed to unfavorable employment terms or conditions. Under the Act, you have the option of filing a complaint of marital status discrimination with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) – an agency that’s separate and independent from all other offices and agencies of the federal government. After filing a complaint, the OSC is responsible for conducting an investigation. If it finds your claim of discrimination is valid, it has the authority to take corrective action.
State Anti-Discrimination Laws
As of this writing, 21 states and the District of Columbia are the only jurisdictions that have anti-discrimination statutes that prohibit discrimination against single employees. Two states, Connecticut and Indiana, only protect teachers from discrimination. The other 20 jurisdictions, however, provide broader protection as their statutes cover all workers employed within their respective jurisdictions. Therefore, unless you work for a federal government agency or in one of these 22 jurisdictions, your only recourse may be to contact someone in your human resources department who is willing to discuss the marital status discrimination issues with your boss. Otherwise, you may need to just find a new employer who values your skill set enough to not discriminate against you.
- Bacon Wilson Attorneys at Law: When Single Employees Are “Discriminated” Against
- HR Hero: Are Single, Childless Workers Shortchanged by Benefit Plans?
- University of Pennsylvania – Policy Briefing Series: Work-family Information for State Legislators
- Inc. Magazine: Single Mother Wins $200,000 in Job Bias Case
- Manley Burke: Marital Status Discrimination - Federal Law
- Sharmin & Sharmin: Exceptions To Employment Discrimination Action Based On Anti-nepotism Policies
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