Divorce and Marital Status Discrimination
Whether you are getting married, going through a divorce, or re-marrying, the last thing you want to worry about is your marital status being held against you at work. Workplace discrimination based on marital status can have serious consequences on your career and personal well-being. In this article, we will explore what marital status discrimination is, how it can manifest in the workplace, and the legal protections available to employees.
What is Marital Status Discrimination?
As its name suggests, marital status discrimination is workplace discrimination based on an employee’s marital status. It can occur whether you are married or single. Marital status discrimination falls under the broader category of familial status discrimination, similar to parental status discrimination.
Unlawfulness arises when an employer makes employment decisions based on marital status. This conduct may include the denial of employment, employment opportunities, or promotions; harassment; unequal pay; and other negative actions.
While many states prohibit marital status discrimination, there is no specific federal law to protect against it. However, conduct that might otherwise constitute marital status discrimination may still violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law that prohibits workplace discrimination.
Title VII and Marital Status Discrimination
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on color, national origin, race, religion, and sex. While this federal law doesn’t specifically protect against marital discrimination, it may still offer protection against misconduct related to marital status since such discrimination is commonly considered discrimination based on sex.
Understanding Marital Discrimination
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), questions about marital status and children are commonly used to discriminate against women. These questions may violate Title VII if used to deny or limit employment opportunities. Even asking these questions of both men and women may be evidence of intent to discriminate against women with children.
The EEOC advises employers to avoid asking “non-job-related questions involving marital status, number or ages of children or dependents, or names of spouses or children of the applicant.” While there may be legitimate reasons to ask these questions after an employment offer has been made and accepted, this information should not be used against the employee in a discriminatory way.
Questions that May Constitute Marital Status Discrimination
The following pre-employment inquiries, according to the EEOC, may be regarded as evidence of intent to discriminate when asked in a pre-employment context:
- Whether the applicant is pregnant.
- The applicant’s future childbearing plans.
- Number and age of children.
- Childcare arrangements.
- The marital status or marital intentions of the applicant.
- Name of spouse.
- Employment status of spouse.
States with Laws Against Marital Discrimination
While federal law does not specifically deem marital status discrimination unlawful, many states have laws prohibiting discrimination based on marital status. Here are some of the states with such laws:
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Understanding Your Rights
In states with laws against marital discrimination, employers cannot base employment decisions on an employee’s marital status. This includes comments made throughout the hiring process as well. Interview questions and job applications should not attempt to solicit information about an applicant’s marital status.
Victims of Domestic Violence
Some marriages end as a result of domestic abuse. Several states have anti-discrimination laws to protect victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. These laws shield victims who must take time off work to address the violence in their lives from employment discrimination.
Understanding your workplace rights during and after divorce is crucial. Marital status discrimination can have severe consequences on your career and life. If you believe you have faced marital status discrimination, consult an employment discrimination attorney licensed in your state to learn about the legal protections available to you.
- Is marital status discrimination a federal offense? Marital status discrimination is not specifically a federal offense, but it may be covered under Title VII if it’s considered discrimination based on sex.
- What is the purpose of Title VII? Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on color, national origin, race, religion, and sex in the workplace.
- Which states have laws against marital discrimination? Some of the states with laws against marital discrimination include California, New York, Texas, and Washington.
- Can employers ask applicants about their marital status? Employers should avoid asking applicants about their marital status or related questions during the pre-employment process to avoid potential discrimination.
- What protections are available for victims of domestic violence at work? Several states have laws that protect victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking from employment discrimination. These laws may allow victims to take time off work without facing negative consequences.