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Should My Marital Status Affect My Employment?

Updated: Aug 29, 2022

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.


If any intended decisions were based on the actions mentioned above, then it is illegal. An employer cannot change the terms of employment or fire an employee just from their personal biases, as per public policy.


An employer cannot raise your workload (or any other employment decisions with targeted malice) because of your race, sex, national origin, religion, or the fact that you reported safety violations.


Federal Laws


Two federal anti-discrimination statutes cover discrimination based on marital status. However, none of them expressly forbids discrimination based on marital status.


Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination based on color, national origin, ethnicity, faith, and sex, applies to businesses with 15 or more employees. The Equal Pay Act applies to almost all companies, regardless of the number of workers.


When two workers perform jobs that require the same duties, expertise, and commitment, the act forbids unequal pay practices based on gender. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of the United States is in charge of enforcing Title VII and the Equal Pay Act.


Since marital status discrimination is often mistaken for sex discrimination, these federal laws do not have specific clauses prohibiting it. Consider one of our prescreened California Employment Lawyers in your California Attorney Search.

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Family Responsibilities Discrimination


Family responsibilities discrimination (FRD), also known as caregiver discrimination, is occupational discrimination based on an employee's actual or perceived duty to care for family members. Employers can discriminate against employees who have family obligations by denying employment or promotions, harassing, underpaying, or otherwise taking negative employment action against them.


Caring for a spouse, infant, or parent, becoming pregnant, or even the possibility of being pregnant, caring for a disabled child or relative, or caring for an elderly parent are all examples of family obligations.


Discrimination based on family commitments can affect almost any employee. When unmarried and married couples are treated differently, family obligations discrimination can coexist with marital status or family status discrimination.


Is FRD exclusive to women?


Though working women are disproportionately affected by caregiving obligations, protections are available to all workers, including men. Beyond children and partners, words like "family," "caregiver," and "caregiving obligations" apply to those for whom the employee has primary caregiving responsibilities.


Examples of prejudices that might lead to illegal behavior:

  • Employers thinking that male employees do not, or do not, have major caregiving obligations is one prejudice or bias.

  • Denying male workers' calls for leave due to caregiving duties, but not female workers'.

  • Assuming that female workers prefer to spend time with their families overtime at work, or should prefer to spend time with their families overtime at work.

  • Assuming that a woman's ability to excel in a fast-paced world would be hampered by her caregiving duties.


What forms of discrimination fall under the category of family obligations discrimination?


FRD may involve things like:

  • Firing pregnant workers because they are expecting a child or will be on maternity leave.

  • Promoting women without children or fathers instead of more eligible women with children

  • Failure to promote pregnant women or women with small children

  • Giving promotions to women without children or fathers instead of more qualified women with children

  • Parents are given work schedules that they are unable to fulfill due to childcare obligations, whereas nonparents are given flexible schedules.

  • Fabricating job infractions or performance defects in order to justify the dismissal of workers who have family responsibilities.

  • Staff who have lawfully taken time off to care for elderly parents are being penalized.

  • For fear of being pregnant, single men are preferred over engaged or married women.


What is the significance of FRD?


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released reports that highlight the ever-growing problem of employment discrimination faced by family caregivers. Seventy percent of families with children in the United States have all adults working.


Here's some statistics to ponder on:

  • Women make up 46% of the workforce in the United States, and the majority of women (81%) have children.

  • 25% of households are responsible for the treatment of elderly relatives.

  • 10% of staff are responsible for both children and elderly parents.


With these figures, it's obvious that a substantial number of workers are actually or possibly being discriminated against because of their family obligations.


Does it affect me?


FRD can affect you if you have a job and family caregiving responsibilities. FRD is most common among women with children: they are 79 percent less likely to be recommended for hire, 100 percent less likely to be promoted, and are usually offered less in salary for the same job as a similarly situated man.


When it comes to actively caring for their children or other family members, men are continually facing discrimination at work because of their family obligations. FDR against men may take several forms; for example, some employers have turned down male employees' requests for childcare leave while approving female employees' requests.


What effect does FRD have on businesses?


Businesses are often unaware that their hiring practices are unlawful. Employers face high legal costs and the risk of high turnover rates if they fail to consider the needs of workers with such caregiving obligations, regardless of the outcome.


It is important for companies to implement a preventive strategy. To ensure that their recruiting, attendance, promotion, incentive compensation, benefits, and leave programs are not adversely affecting workers, employers should review them. Supervisors and HR staff should be trained on what constitutes FRD and how to treat grievances. Employers should be mindful of social prejudices and handle all FRD grievances fairly.


What are the laws that regulate FRD now?


FRD is not specifically prohibited by federal law. Employees may be covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and ERISA, even though no law specifically prohibits FRD. Some states have passed legislation, and certain types of workers, such as government employees, may be protected.


Can an Employer ask about your marital status in a job interview?


Although there is no federal statute prohibiting such questions, most employers avoid being convicted of unethical activities such as sex discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, or violating an employee's privacy by not asking such questions. Employers should refrain from inquiring about any aspect of the candidate that the law forbids them from taking into account when making hiring decisions.

However, if your organization has an anti-nepotism policy (which prevents spouses or family members from working in the same company or department), they can ask if you already have a spouse or family member working there.

You have the choice of refusing to answer these questions if they are presented to you. However, you run the risk of upsetting the interviewer and missing out on a chance to compete for the role. You should want to address the question during the interview and then discuss it with the interviewer or the company's personnel office later if you are hired for the job.


If having revealed that information negatively affects your job, then an employment attorney will tell you that it is a form of discrimination, and can be taken up as a valid claim. Given, of course, that there are substantial proof by the end of an investigation.


Work decisions based on assumptions that female caregivers can not, or cannot, or cannot be dedicated to their jobs are sex-based and breach Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Are single or unmarried employees discriminated against when they're getting fewer benefits?


Employee benefits compensation may be lost by unmarried or childless employees, who may lose hundreds or even thousands of dollars each year. Many employers subsidize all or a substantial portion of health, dental, vision, and other benefits for married employees' spouses and families without providing equivalent coverage to single and/or childless workers. In most nations, however, this is not unconstitutional since discrimination based on marital and/or family status is not prohibited.


Even in states where discrimination based on marital status is prohibited, some state laws make exceptions for insurance, allowing employers to legally discriminate in the benefits they provide.


Implementing compensation "packages" is one way to remove marital or family status discrimination from employee benefit programs. Workers in these schemes earn the same number of credits to use for benefits, regardless of marital or parental status, allowing them to pick and choose the benefits that best suit their personal or family needs.


Employees in domestic partnerships sometimes get benefits, too Allowing same-sex and heterosexual unmarried couples to receive domestic partner benefits helps to remove any prejudice against unmarried employees who have a partner.


Despite the fact that several states have legalized same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court has reversed the Protection of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibited same-sex marriages from becoming legally recognized by the federal government, many states continue to forbid it, and courts in other states have yet to rule on the validity of such prohibitions.


To equally reward single workers who live with a dependent adult blood spouse, some businesses have implemented an "extended family" benefits package.


Although such policies are not mandated by law, employers who want to hire and retain valuable workers may want to follow them voluntarily. If you believe you have been handled unfairly because of your family obligations, check with your employer's personnel or human resources department to see if new options are available or being considered, and talk to other employees to see whether they are bothered by the disparity in benefits.


Scenario: Your coworker is allowed to leave much earlier than everyone else to pick up children from school. The put in less work hours than single coworkers, is that discrimination?


Despite the fact that this appears to be a form of FRD, it is most definitely not illegal. Even if the state considers these types of discrimination to be unlawful, being required to cover for another employee on a temporary basis is unlikely to be deemed severe enough to result in a discrimination lawsuit.

Many businesses have implemented "family-friendly" programs to help employees with children manage work and family obligations.

If you ever believe you've been treated unfairly, talk to your coworkers, your boss, or the company's human resources department to see if the company should adopt leave policies or practices that treat employees with and without children equally, or if the department's workload can be reallocated so that no one person is responsible for all of it.


Can an employer inquire about my private family or home status? Can they make employment decisions based on that?


Some courts have ruled that religious organizations or youth-serving organizations can discriminate against employees who do not adhere to the organization's principles, as long as those principles are extended to all employees. If such organizations have strict policies prohibiting premarital sex, they have been permitted to fire unmarried pregnant workers on the grounds that they engaged in premarital sex.


To escape a legitimate sex discrimination lawsuit, these employers will have to show that they do not treat men who engage in premarital sex differently than women who engage in premarital sex. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects religious owners of closely held for-profit corporations in making employment decisions based on their genuine religious convictions, according to the most recent Supreme Court decision on the subject.


However, if you work for a non-religious company, it might be difficult for them to maintain a valid business rationale for policies or activities that discriminate against single women who are pregnant or who already have children. In this case, one supervisor's personal religious views would rarely, if ever, matter from a legal standpoint, particularly if other company workers were treated differently. An employment attorney can find their way around the loopholes, too, if an employer is using it against you.


Being married makes it difficult to do overtime work. Can my manager favor a single employee who can?


Although this could seem to be discrimination based on marital status or adjacent, it is most definitely not. Even if your state considers these specific types of discrimination to be unlawful or unconstitutional, your employer may claim that giving your coworker the promotion has a business reason (other than discrimination) because she has worked more hours and probably contributed more to the company.


Furthermore, your coworker may be resentful because she is being forced to work more overtime because she is single, and her outside obligations are not as important to your employer as her family commitments. If you want to advance in your business, talk to your boss about how you can do so without working longer hours.


Consider:

  • While you cannot measure an employees capacity to perform based on marital and family status, some work hours fit more than most.

  • You can ask your boss about other ways to do overtime (i.e., remote work, take home documents, make online calls instead of in-office)


What are the other relevant laws in California?


Unfortunately, there is no federal or state statute barring discrimination or retaliation against caregivers at the moment. The California Legislature made two attempts to include "familial status" as a protected class under the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Both attempts were a failure.


Employees with caregiver roles would have been exempted from discrimination if the bill had passed. Marital Status Discrimination Lawyers who handle similar cases will already know how to find their workarounds.

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What choices do I have?


Despite the fact that being a caregiver is not a protected class under federal or California law, the EEOC has identified situations under which discrimination against caregivers can be unfair, unequal treatment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Stereotypes based on gender, for example, can lead to sex discrimination claims. For example, refusing a female employee a promotion because the employer believes she may prefer to spend time with her children rather than at work is discriminatory. Allowing a female employee, but not a male, to leave early twice a week to care for an elderly parent is another example of forbidden behavior based on sex.


Caregivers' stereotyping may be considered discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Discrimination against an employee who is related to a person with a disability, such as a child, partner, or parent, is prohibited under the ADA.


A job applicant, for example, should not be refused a role because the employer incorrectly believes that the applicant's caregiving obligations for a disabled child will adversely impact his or her attendance and performance at work. In this case, the applicant may have a good case that the employer violated the ADA by refusing to hire anyone because of his or her connection to a disabled person.

Employees who believe they have been abused, discriminated against, or retaliated against because of their caregiver duties may file lawsuits under the Equal Pay Act, Pregnancy Discrimination Act, California Family Rights Act, and Family Medical Leave Act, in addition to Title VII and the ADA.

Given the EEOC's recent focus on jobs with caregiver obligations, here are several pointers for employers to consider when dealing with caregiver employees or applicants:


  • When it comes to interviewing, hiring, and retaining workers, pay special attention to work skills.

  • Examine pay policies and procedures, as well as the preparation of performance reviews, to ensure that

  • workers are not penalized for taking safe leave or time off to provide treatment.

  • Supervisors and managers should be educated about how to handle employees who are responsible for caring for others.

  • Enable workers to use unused leave time such as sick, vacation, or compensatory time off to fulfill caregiving duties by allowing flexible work arrangements.

  • Investigate allegations of caregiver discrimination as soon as possible.

  • Efficient management of workers with caregiving obligations also hinges on good communication. As a result, employers should keep workers informed of any problems that should arise as a result of their caregiving obligations.

If their caregiver status does in fact affect an employee's capacity to work, then an employer can ask for an open discussion regarding adjustments. These can be in the form of flexible time, alternative work, or other solutions that will not affect that end-product.


Who enforces these laws?


State and local anti-discrimination agencies, also known as "equal work," "civil rights," or "human rights" commissions or agencies, are in charge of enforcing state and local anti-discrimination laws.


Marital Status and Caregiver Discrimination Claims are Complicated


Unlike most cases of discriminatory workplace practices, marital status and FRD do not thread solid parameters. Race, gender, and sex-related discrimination have more solid guidelines. Marital status and family life, while there have been previous cases taken to court, are prone to informal agreements and understanding.


These agreements may not be officially written in the contract, but either an agreement of two parties in a workplace or a general rule of thumb in the industry.


Examples of these:

  • Allowing employees with young children to leave the office 15 minutes early every day.

  • Employers subconsciously choosing single young men even before any interaction has occurred.

  • Choosing married, older men for higher positions on the assumption that they're "wiser."

  • Giving difficult working hours to single employees

These are decisions made to give lee-way to someone who might initially have difficulties. Considerations have been made, and was agreed upon by both parties.


However, this doesn't mean that you don't have a legitimate claim. There are more clear-cut scenarios that employees experience, and therefore have more bearing in court. Here are some examples:

  • An employer openly admitting to shooting down your promotion for your marital status, even when you have the qualifications.

  • Firing an employee because they are getting married in the near future.

  • Specifically looking for 'single applicants' for a position.


If you still need clarity, or a second set of eyes, it's best to find legal counsel. An Employment Lawyer will know if you have a strong case, and can advise you regarding the next logical steps that will ultimately benefit you.


What can an Employment Lawyer do for you?


For complicated cases like this, it's best to consult someone with expertise. Not only will they be able to give you clarity, but they're also able to offer you more solutions when you do have a solid claim.


What is the next step?


There are so many different sources of federal, state, and local legislation related to discrimination based on marital status and parental status. When prejudice is suspected, it is often best to contact OSC, the state or local governmental entity, or an attorney as soon as possible to secure your legal rights. 1000Attorneys.com is a California Bar Association Certified Lawyer Referral Service that may help you connect with a lawyer.

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