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Should My Marital Status Affect My Employment?

Updated: Aug 29

Learn how to file a claim if your employer is discriminating against you because of your marital status.

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits workplace discrimination based on a person's marital status, including whether they are married, not married, divorced, separated, widowed, annulled, dissolved, or have any other marital status. Employers can, however, impose fair restrictions, such as banning spouses from working in the same department.

Direct proof of marital status discrimination, such as employer statements specifically referring to marital status, or indirect and circumstantial proof, such as inferences drawn from facts and circumstances.

Even if an employee cannot provide clear proof of marital status discrimination, he or she can make an actionable assumption of discrimination by presenting a case argument, typically goes like this:

  • The employee belongs to a protected group (he or she is of a particular marital status).

  • The employee was handled unfairly at work, such as being fired, threatened, or refused a promotion.

Employees with different marital statuses in the same classification were not handled differently, or the employee was replaced by someone with a different marital status.

While marital status discrimination isn't the most common form of unlawful discrimination, it does happen. Discriminating against an employee based on his or her marital status, whether married, separated, divorced, single, or widowed, is known as marital status discrimination.

Discrimination against an unmarried woman who is pregnant, for example, may include both pregnancy and marital status discrimination, when an employer treats an employee unfairly because of her or his marital status, whether in terms of compensation, promotion opportunities, hiring, termination, or any other significant way.

How Do You Spot It?

Discrimination takes many forms, and not all of them are apparent. We're all on the lookout for signs of prejudice based on color, ethnicity, or religion these days. The more prevalent manifestations of sexism are difficult to overlook. We're all working together to recognize discrimination against people with disabilities.

Marital status discrimination, on the other hand, is extremely likely to overlook unless an employer is especially obnoxious. Employers are people. They will have their own personal opinion and biases. After all, we all have different perspectives on relationships.

On the one hand, others believe that marriage is a symbol of maturity. On the other hand, there are others who are fiercely independent (and single) and resent a married couple's joint decision-making in addition to everything in between.

Although these viewpoints can be eccentric in your social life, they can be disastrous if a manager's or owner's personal feelings regarding marriage and relationships begin to influence their policies.

Are There Actual Cases of Marital Status Discrimination?

Discrimination in the workplace based on marital status is illegal in California. Your employer cannot make hiring decisions based on whether or not you are married, who your partner is, or whether or not they like your spouse. The key to maintaining an equal workplace is to recognize indicators of marital status discrimination.

To do so, it's useful to understand the various ways in which this problem has previously manifested itself in the workplace. Consider this:

  • Employers who seek to extract as much value as possible from their workers are more likely to discriminate against married people. Employees who are married have someone to come home to and probably children to spend time with before going to bed. They'll prefer consistent daytime hours with some late nights and weekends.

  • Employees who are young, single, and otherwise unattached are more "valuable" because they can work more nights and weekends. Their holiday schedule is less taxing, and they don't have someone at home to point out when their work-life balance is off. As a result, some employers choose to recruit single individuals because they are easier to assign tough hours and overtime to.

These are clear cases of marital status discrimination, also known as family responsibility discrimination.

Other Examples:

  • Thinking that a female employee's engagement or marriage means she'll be more likely to become pregnant and take parental leave.

  • Employees who are married or engaged to people of the same sex are a personal issue for some employers.

  • When a female employee is married, the employer is more likely to be rejected when making unwanted sexual advances.

  • Employees who are married are less likely to accept job benefits and promotions in exchange for sexual favors.

  • An employer that pays male employees more than female employees based on the dubious belief that only men can be breadwinners and provide for their families.

Marital Status Discrimination in California Law

Discriminating against workers because of their marital status is illegal in California, regardless of how many employees an organization has. Employers in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the state are prohibited from making hiring decisions based on whether a job candidate or employee is married or single or whether he or she is in a civil union.

If an employer discriminates against you or harasses you in the workplace, creating a hostile atmosphere and making it difficult for you to fulfill your duties, you might be able to file a marital status discrimination lawsuit, whether you're married or engaged to a person of the opposite sex or the same sex.

In the same way, California laws shield you from discrimination based on your marital status. As a result, harassing or discriminating against you because you took time off to care for a child or were late for work because you had to go to your child's school will be illegal.

Can it happen in job interviews?

If you're looking for work, the same rules apply. If you're going on a work interview, you can't be asked about your marital status specifically or indirectly.

During a regular conversation during a work interview, intentionally requesting information about an applicant's marital status is also forbidden. If an employee congratulated a female applicant on her engagement ring and then inquired about her personal life, it would be called marital status discrimination.

Here are other questions that are considered inappropriate:

  • Whether or not the applicant is expecting a child.

  • Applicant's marital status or whether he or she intends to marry.

  • Number of children and their ages, as well as potential plans for childbearing.

  • Arrangements for child care

  • Spouse's employment situation.

  • Spouse's name.

It's illegal for your boss to ask about your marriage or family status.

If an applicant is compelled or forced to share details about his or her own family responsibilities, such as an employer reminding you that he has to attend parent-teacher conferences every Friday, is not appropriate.

But, in the first place, why do employers discriminate against work candidates and workers based on marital or family status?

Marital Status Discrimination isn't always noticeable.

The differentiated treatment between married and unmarried employees is not always evident, but there are some signs. Some of these examples aren't extreme, but they give you hints in scenarios where your marital status might affect the work you do or how coworkers and bosses perceive you. Here are some:

Gauging your maturity through marital status. Traditional conservative managers may view marriage as a significant maturation phase. This is perfectly natural, but they perceive married employees to be more experienced, and therefore more trustworthy and personally established than single employees.

People who are married are more likely to be appointed into positions of authority in places like this. Managerial positions, in particular, have an advantage over others. Unmarried people are held in team-member and specialist positions, where personal maturity isn't stressed as much.

Higher positions are mostly taken up by people married to each other. The motivation isn't always purely economic or moral. In some companies, the upper management is all married and very social. You may have seen the difficulties of working in a cliquish environment where promotions are dependent on friendship. Cliquishness can sometimes morph into marital status discrimination.

Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to management making decisions about promotions based on who they are friends with. Not who is the most skilled or who has put in the most effort to get the job.

Your employer makes job decisions based on who your spouse is. Instead of your own hard work and commitment, they make judgments based on the success or failings of a potential or currently-employed worker. It shouldn't matter in the workplace if a person's partner is politically engaged in a way that their employer opposes.

However, if the employer uses this to refuse promotions and opportunities, this is a form of discrimination based on marital status.

Just as if a religious employer legally discriminates (some courts allow discrimination on the grounds of religious faith or beliefs) against an employee, but it's because their partner is well-known for it and not the employee themselves. This is inappropriate, most especially if the employee never brings his or her faith to work or violates the company's specified policies.

If your spouse has a reputation in the industry or operates in the same business or contractor circles as you, you can face marital status discrimination. Some employers are so opposed to "relationships in the office" that they would refuse to recruit anyone if their partner already works for them.

They can (and should) keep people in a relationship from working in the same management chain. They still have no right to fire you or refuse to promote you if your partner refuses to sign a contract.

If you've been subjected to marital status discrimination at work, no matter how apparent, innocuous, or well-intentioned, know that you have options. Discrimination based on marital status is prohibited in California.

You may also be experiencing the same biases each time you apply or are employed. Those who benefit from willfully showing their skewed assumptions are also likely to be doing this to every single one of their workers.

California's Workplace Discrimination Laws

Discrimination in the workplace, in general, is illegal in California and the United States. Many people have a misunderstanding about what employment discrimination is. Discrimination does not imply that an organization must be equal, respectful, or make sound decisions.

Discrimination in the workplace occurs when an employer handles one individual or group differently than those who are not in the same group but are in similar circumstances.

Discrimination against public policy is the only form of employment discrimination that is illegal. Things that are expressly prohibited by a statute (law) passed by the legislature or by a regulation promulgated by a government agency are referred to as public policy.

Discrimination against individuals in particular protected classes, such as sex, ethnicity, national origin, disability, sexual preference, age, religion, marital status, pregnancy, and genetic details, is prohibited by public policy. Employment attorneys have handled so many similar cases.