In the workplace, it’s possible that employees face discrimination as a result of their relationship status, often if they’re married or in a civil partnership. This can be a stressful situation to find yourself in, making it important that you have a thorough understanding of your rights.
This guide aims to provide a foundation for that understanding by answering common questions such as whether marriage is protected under the Equality Act. If you have concerns related to a specific incident, it’s best to reach out to an employment solicitor for advice on what action you can take.
Protection under the Equality Act 2010.
There are nine characteristics protected under the Equality Act. These consist of age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, and marriage or civil partnership.
As a result, you are protected from certain types of discrimination under the Act. However, the protections afforded to those who are married or in a civil partnership are slightly less comprehensive than those afforded to the other characteristics in the Act.
What you’re protected against
Unlike the other eight characteristics in the Act, if you are married or in a civil partnership, you are not protected against harassment. You are, however, protected against two main kinds of discrimination.
Direct discrimination for being married or in a civil partnership consists of unfair treatment that you face as an individual from your employer. This could consist of the following examples:
- Your manager preferring marriage to civil partnerships to such a degree that it resulted in them refusing to promote you, despite the fact that all other criteria were met.
- Your employer making it a requirement that you disclose your relationship status as part of the application process for a job, but not doing the same for those who are single.
- Your workplace placing unreasonable restrictions on staff who are married or in a civil partnership which don’t apply to those who are single, such as not allowing them to work from home.
Indirect discrimination is more general and, in this case, would refer to any broader company policy or practice that discriminates against those who are married or in civil partnerships, despite being applied across the board. This could consist of the following examples:
- Your workplace had a dress code that prevented you from wearing a wedding ring. This would be indirect discrimination against those who are married, as they would be unable to comply with the policy.
- Your company offers staff discounts for certain retailers, but none of the retailers offer discounts to those who are married or in a civil partnership. This would be indirect discrimination against those in a marriage or civil partnership, as they would not be able to take advantage of the same benefits as their colleagues.
It is possible for indirect discrimination to be justified in some cases if it can be shown that the practice of policy is legitimate and essential for the business in question.
Civil partnership vs equal marriage
Understanding the main differences between civil partnership and equal marriage is an important component of this matter, as there are often some basic misunderstandings.
Historically, those who are in civil partnerships have faced higher levels of discrimination than those who are married. Legally speaking, there are very few differences between the two nowadays, especially since royal assent was granted to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013.
This Act saw the introduction of equal marriage in England and Wales, meaning that same-sex couples now have the same rights as heterosexual couples when it comes to getting married. This also means that there are now very few differences between civil partnerships and marriages.
The key difference between civil partnership and marriage is that marriage is a religious institution, whereas civil partnership is not. As a result, you can only get married in a church or other registered religious building if both you and your partner are of the same religion. Civil partnerships can take place anywhere.
There are some small differences in the terminology used for each type of relationship too. For example, those who are married are referred to as ‘husband’ and ‘wife’, whereas those in a civil partnership are referred to as ‘civil partners’.
If you think you’ve experienced direct or indirect discrimination or believe that you have been the victim of direct or indirect discrimination, as a result of being married or in a civil partnership, it’s important to reach out to an employment solicitor for advice on what action you can take. You may want to make a complaint internally through your company’s grievance procedure. Alternatively, you may want to take legal action by filing a claim with an employment tribunal. Time limits for taking action through an employment tribunal are usually three months from the date of the discriminatory incident, so it’s important to act quickly.