Marriage And Civil Partnership Discrimination

If a person is married or in a civil partnership, then they have a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. The law does not extend to:

  • Cohabiting couples
  • Couples engaged to be married/ entering into a civil partnership
  • Divorced couples
  • Widows or widowers

The marriage and civil partnership characteristic often overlap with other protected characteristics such as sexual orientation, gender reassignment, religion or belief, or sex (gender).

There are three main types of marriage and civil partnership discrimination:

  • Direct discrimination: someone is treated less favourably because he or she are married or in a civil partnership
  • Indirect discrimination: the application of a provision or criterion which although applied equally to all staff, disadvantages those who share a protected characteristic
  • Victimisation: when an employee suffers detrimental treatment for making or supporting a complaint of discrimination.

It is worth noting that in cases of harassment as a form of discrimination, marriage and civil partnership is not a protected characteristic as covered by the Equality Act 2010. This means that an employee cannot claim if they feel they have suffered unwanted conduct due to the fact they are married or in a civil partnership.

There are 6 areas where marriage and civil partnership discrimination are common:

1) Recruitment
As an employer, you should take care when wording advertisements, job descriptions and person specifications. Additionally, you should avoid advertising on only one platform, as this may only attract a specific type of applicant. You should ensure that job applications only ask for personal information that is relevant to the job, and likewise during an interview, asking personal questions unrelated to the job should be avoided.

2) Pay and Terms and Conditions of Employment
Terms and conditions should not disadvantage or exclude people because they are married or in a civil partnership. The same terms and conditions should be given to same-sex couples, as well as opposite-sex couples.

3) Promotion
Employees cannot be overlooked for promotion opportunities because they are married or in a civil partnership. It would be unlawful to:

  • Only accept applications from people who are not married/civil partner; 
  • Discourage a married/civil partner employee from applying for a promotion;
  • Not promote someone because there is an unwritten rule that for promotions of a certain level, unmarried candidates are preferred.

4) Training
You cannot withhold training from an employee because they are married or a civil partner. Training should be available to all relevant employees, even though they are full time or part-time.

5) Dismissal
It is unlawful to dismiss an employee because they are married or a civil partner.

6) Redundancy
An employee must not be discriminated against during a redundancy process because they are married or a civil partner. It would help if you were mindful of your redundancy criterion and how you manage the process.

Married Couples / Civil Partners Working For The Same Employer

It can be acceptable to have a workplace policy on personal relationships at work if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, such as guarding your interests.

Usually, as an employer, you should not ban personal relationships at work, but it may be reasonable to put in place certain restrictions so that couples are not working within the same team or department.

Avoiding Stereotypes: Good Workplace Practice

As an employer, you should avoid making assumptions about an employee, just because they are married / civil partner. An example of such assumptions would be:

1) More commitments outside of work;
2) Choosing family life over career progression;
3) Not as reliable as an employee who is single.

Such assumptions are most probably going to be discriminatory, and therefore should be avoided.

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About the author 

James Rowland

James is the Commercial Director at Neathouse Partners and regularly writes articles surrounding issues in HR & Employment Law. Outside of the office, James is a keen Cricketer, playing in the Cheshire League for Nantwich CC. He also loves going to watch his football team, Crewe Alexandra. Feel free to connect with James on LinkedIn.